Category Archives: Literature

The Norm

I admit, this post is a premature one considering I have not finished reading this novel yet. However, in that being said, I am already struck with the idea that suspicion surrounds Nick because of his persona and actions during his wife’s (Amy’s) disappearance. Granted the police have to start somewhere and of course, it is those closer to the victim who are always suspected first. But, the concept just got me thinking of how people are perceived and how important those perceptions really are in certain situations.

“The news reports would show Nick Dunne, husband of the missing woman, standing metallically next to his father-in-law, arms crossed, eyes glazed, looking almost bored as Amy’s parents wept. Then worse. My long time response, the need to remind people I wasn’t I dick, I was a nice guy despite the affectless stare, the haughty douchebag face. So there it came, out of no where, as Rand begged for his daughter’s safe return: A killer smile” – pg 64

Not going to lie, that killer smile makes him seem pretty guilty right? So what does this all have to do with the title, “The Norm”? Well think about it, if we don’t act/react the way society dictates us to, we’re perceived as weird and depending on the situation, guilty. See, the thing with Nick is that he was taught to hide emotion, to hide it from his father and the world because quite frankly, emotion was a sign of weakness. So maybe his way of dealing with it is to not show his inner turmoil. So is it fair to deem people as scrupulous in nature if they do not meet our reaction standards? I mean you have to admit, categorizing people based on their reactions/actions is a well-oiled survival mechanism allowing us to instantly distance ourselves from a potentially shaky individual. But again I say, is it fair?

As I said before, I haven’t finished the book yet, so the question of whether Nick is guilty or not still hovers over me. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that no matter how guilty he appears to be, a Red Herring will be thrown in and give an unexpected twist. I’ll just have to find out for myself now won’t I.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
©Farrah Merza
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Before I Go To Sleep, the Novel

What would you do if you woke up in unfamiliar surroundings due to sever memory loss? Waking up next to a complete stranger who is apparently your husband and found the old person staring back at you in the mirror is you? Then, upon glancing at your journal you’ve kept in hopes of remembering the memories you’ve lost (which was given to you by a doctor whom you’ve been apparently seeing), you see the following words that you’ve written in bold.

“DO NOT TRUST BEN”

Ben is your husband.

Now then, tell me, what would you do?

What a question! Well, I have been confined to my room for the past three hours, severely engrossed in this brilliant novel by S.J. Watson in hopes of finding out how the protagonist, Christine Lucas, deals with her unfortunate situation… I have the backache to prove it (due to sprawling out on my one seater couch intent on reading). The further and further I dived into Christine’s life, the more fervent I was to finish her story. Ben, oh Ben. What to say about Ben? She catches him lying about certain events in her life and about the people she knew and boy, do his lies stack up day by day. To think that she would have never caught on to them if she had not started recording her fleeting memories on paper and without her secret sessions with Dr. Nash… and yet her husband Ben is so ingrained in her mind (with constant reminders of pictures, letters, and his utter devotion to her) that she loves him over and over again. He’s been taking care of her so he can’t be bad, right? She’s conflicted and she doesn’t know who to trust. However, as events unfold and are brought to her attention through her treasured journal, Christine realizes who she can trust and who she can’t… but will it be too late?

Yes, needless to say, this book hooked me right from the beginning. I literally got chills while reading through the climax and I still get chills just thinking about the end. It was Christine’s vulnerability that really got to me. Without her memories, she was just a sitting duck, completely oblivious to the dangers that lurked around her. Her situation definitely made me ponder on the nature of memory and how memories define who we are; we depend on them so much that we never think of how different life would be if we could not retain them. It’s something we take for granted… well at least I do. I’m not going to lie, I definitely started to contemplate a scenario like her’s, but with me playing the lead instead and I did not like it one bit. To be at the mercy of others and their versions of your life is just to much to bare, especially with such scrupulous characters prowling about.

***

©Farrah Merza: The book in question that I just could not put down! I’ve linked the amazon.ca link to purchase this book… that is if I’ve swayed you enough to pick it up!

A Fine Balance, the Novel

Are we but helpless victims to our own circumstances? Are we defined by our actions, judged but not even attempted to be understood? These were the questions that floated about in my head while reading A Fine Balance, the questions that I knew I just had to write about. But, before I dive into them, maybe a brief synopsis of one of the character’s life is in order.

Dina Dalal (maiden name is Shroff) is a stubborn and cynical woman, which means she’s the perfect character to be annoyed with and hate, right? Well, I couldn’t. Knowing about her tumultuous and tragic life starting with the death of her father at a very tender age was enough for me to understand why she was the way she was. She was a bright and ambitious girl who dreamed of being a doctor. Unfortunately, her life spiralled out of control with the passing of her father, everything unraveling right before her eyes. Nusswan was a troll of a brother, without a clue in the world of how to handle a little sister and a slowly disintegrating mother. However, Dina found solace seated in the theatre, listening to musicians playing away at their instruments. It was the perfect place to meet her love, Rustom Dalal. He was her escape, but he was only a temporary safe haven as he too died in a fatal accident. Now, she struggles to pay the bills on time and scrambles to keep her life together. With the other characters (Maneck, Ishvar, and Omprekesh) woven into her life, we see her grow… but I wont go further, as I’ll just be ruining the book for you. But, as you can clearly see, Dina has lead a tough life.

“Everybody’s got a story that could break your heart” – Amanda Marshall

It’s true. Even though Dina is a fictitious character, there are people in this world that have had similar lives, that have faced similar trails and tribulations like those of Dina’s. Some of us are victims of our situation. Remember, there are variables that one cannot control; the most infamous and revered is death. A death of a loved one could severely alter your life, just like what happened with Dina’s life void of her father and husband. It’s difficult to conceive if you haven’t gone through struggles like these, but they happen. However, in that being said, how many of us actually take the time to think about that upon contact with another person? How many of us empathize and get to know them as opposed to immediately judging them and staying away? Knowing people’s struggles puts them into context, thus enabling empathy to take root in our hearts.

So instead of leaving you with a question, I’ll end with this: A world without empathy would be a cruel world indeed.

The Ladies Paradise by Émile Zola: A Department Store to Die For

I actually loved the history and literature courses that were compulsory in order to graduate… I just didn’t care for 10 pages essays.  I mean, who didn’t.  However, I was enamoured with this one novel by Émile Zola, Au Bonheur des Dames (translated into The Ladies Paradise by Brian Nelson).  The French version took me time to get through, but I voraciously read thought the English version, turning page after page until my eyes could bare no more.  I just had to finish; the need to complete it outweighed all else.  Finding out more about Mouret and his widely successful department store, The Ladies Paradise, and all the other stories weaved into this remarkable novel became an obsession…  (Note: I am such a nerd).  But beside the point, I couldn’t stop talking about this novel, I just couldn’t.  I’m sure I annoyed some people, but I didn’t care!  I wanted to get everyone to read it, and I meant everyone.  When writing “ma dissertation”, I  focused on the undeniable presence of capitalism woven in and out of this novel.  Of course there were other interesting themes which lay just beneath the surface, like for instance the carefully installed references to Exoticism, (an art and design movement influenced by the “ethnic groups and civilizations during the 19th century” (©Wikipedia)), or Darwinism and survival of the fittest.  But I couldn’t write about all of them now could I.

It was really only a matter of time for this novel to grace my blog and it is probably safe to say that I could have gone on writing about this novel, filling up pages and pages about the various themes and quotes … but I’ll spare you.  My intention is not to write a thesis paper, but to make you add this book to your reading list.

So let me begin.

The basic synopsis, stripped to the bare bones, goes like this:  Mouret, a rich business man builds The Ladies Paradise, a department store for women.  It’s cheaper prices and Mouret’s amazing business strategies dominate all else, pushing the surrounding smaller stores towards poverty and despair. Aka, Mouret steals their customers.  The first characters we meet are Denise and her two brothers Pépé and Jean, the niece and nephews of Baudu who is the owner of one of the small shops.  The first thing they see while making their way to their Uncle’s store is The Ladies Paradise, blinded and in awe of its bright and inviting aura.  Then, they reach their Uncle’s store which is the exact opposite; dark and dreary.  It really does foreshadow his ultimate demise.  This novel accentuates the gears of the well oiled capitalist machine of a department store and its affect on humans and other small businesses.  Yes, The Ladies Paradise brought out the worst and the best in people, it just depended on who’s side the characters were on. But, I must stop here or else I’ll ruin the entire story… this synopsis really does the novel no justice.

I must say that it is exceptionally written; the metaphor-rich text compliments the characters, buildings, and situations that the characters find themselves in.  This style paints a vivid picture of the world this novel creates, giving us insight on these characters without being so obvious.

“Mouret’s sole passion was the conquest of Woman.  He wanted her to be queen in his shop; he had built this temple for her in order to hold her at her mercy. His tactics were to intoxicate her with amorous attentions, to trade on her desires, and to exploit her excitement”. (p. 234: ©World’s Classics Paperbacks)

“Mouret avait l’unique passion de vaincre la femme.  Il la voulait riene dans sa maison, il lut avait bâtis ce temple, pour l’y tenir à sa merci.  C’était toute sa tactique, la griser d’attentions galantes et tranfiquer de ses désirs, exploiter sa fièvre”. (p. 281: ©Éditions Gallimard)

That sneaky devil.  The sheer material gluttony, obsession, and fervor flew off the pages like ripples in a pond.  It was truly remarkable.  When it came to the description of the department store, I felt overwhelmed; piles of different types and colours of materials scattered the floors and tables, and the crowds of people became suffocating.  It’s almost as if being on a carousel spinning so fast, everything becoming a blur till nausea almost sets in.  Then, before it becomes too much, this carousel of a novel slows down, giving you time to regain your balance… and then it starts back up all over again.

The Ladies Paradise
©Farrah Merza: The well read novel in question... I know, I know, I went a little overboard while reading it. It's not my fault a lot of things seemed important! ... Like I said, I am a nerd.

Sources:

Z. Émile. “Au Bonheur des Dames”. Éditions Gallimard. ©1980

Z. Émile. “The Ladies Paradise”. World’s Classics Paperbacks. Translated by Brian Nelson. ©1995

Wikipedia. “Exoticism”. ©2012

What is this “True Self”?

Stephen Cope’s “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self” is a very chewy but insightful read… now I know what you must be thinking, what on earth drove me to pick up this book from the shelves upon shelves of books and purchase it?  It sounds deep and spiritual, a far cry from the fiction I am so accustomed to reading. It could be that, deep down in the dark crevices of my subconscious, there resides intrigue about this “True Self”.  I mean come on, what is that?!  We are constantly surrounded by outside influences, but stripping all that away begs the question, who are we?  That, and I also love yoga.

First of all, I like how this book flows, starting from the beginning before his spiritual quest commenced to the end, all the while including his insight on his experiences. I chuckled when I stumbled across this quote: “Was I on the edge of getting involved in some kind of cult?” (pg. 26).  This so called “cult” was the retreat he went on, which focused on the yoga ice berg.  I say “ice berg” because it is truly that.  What we are so used to associating with yoga is just the tip, the meaning and true spirituality behind yoga is what lies beneath the surface and what is rarely seen only unless studied.

“I could not help by remember Jung’s admonition that Westerners cannot dive into authentic Eastern spiritually without risking a possibly disastrous disorganization of the personality” (pg. 32)

The truth behind that was like a smack on the face, hence making this quote worthy of making it into my notes.  Cope said this in the beginning, but closer to the end of his retreat he confessed that he wanted to stay, thus suggesting his “disorganization of the personality”.  His personality transformed to that of an Easterns’.  I definitely questioned whether I would go through the same thing if put in a similar situation.

The essence of this retreat was to discover the “True Self” through recognition and through “the solidification of this sense of self, and of self-esteem, self-love, and self-concept.” (pg. 80). Instead of me trying to explain in my own words, I’ll let the following quote do all the talking:

“In attempt to develop a sense of self that gives us secure, consistent, and recognizable feelings of internal wholeness, we’ll use whatever raw materials we have at hand: college degrees, monogrammed towels in the bathroom, our own pew at the synagogue, financial status, sexual attractiveness, or an enormous Tudor mansion.” (pg. 82)

These “raw materials” are all the external influences that define us and most definitely gives us a sense of self.  But, what are we without these?  Are we, as humans, innately defined by our external surroundings?  Is that why we clamber to the top, clinging tightly to our distinguished jobs and titles, buying expensive things, and maintaining our social status?  Constantly labelling, stereotyping, subjugating, segregating… *pause*… who are we?  What are our “True Selves”?

More will probably be revealed as I continue on reading, maybe answers to these questions swirling around in my mind will surface.  Granted, even though I have my own belief system that differs from the strong spiritual roots of yoga, I am nonetheless fascinated by his insights. Therefore, I will leave you with one quote that was really… oh what’s the word?… ah yes… “trippy”:

“”Pay attention to this,” Amrit said, “You don’t know who you are.  Who you think you are, you are not.” (pg. 63)

Steve Jobs, the Prickly Perfectionist

FINALLY!  I finished his biography.  It took longer than usual to get really engrossed in it as I’m not used to this genre.  Nonetheless I completed it, all the while writing notes and dissecting it, trying to figure out the angle in which I would approach writing this post.  To be honest, I’m not quite sure I can really pick just one angle as his life was so multifaceted.  Therefore I have only included the parts that really stood out to me.

What I noticed about his life was his attention to detail, his pathological perfection in everything he did.  His aesthetic was minimalism with an intense focus directed towards the details, right down to the packaging.  I know what you all must be thinking, it’s just packaging that will be ripped apart and thrown out in a matter of seconds.  But let me tell you something, when I bought my macbook and opened the case in which it was safely nestled inside, I had the most euphoric feeling.  You must think I’m crazy, but I’m sure I am not the only one out there who had an awe inspiring reaction to the simple act of unearthing an Apple product.

He was a prickly character who believed in being brutally honest: “It is my job to be honest.  I know what I’m talking about, and I usually turn out to be right.  That’s the culture I tried to create. We are brutally honest with each other, and anyone can tell me they think I am full of shit and I can tell them the same thing.” (© Isaacson: pg. 569).  Take for example his goal of being surrounded with A players, firing who he thought were B or C players.  His philosophy was that once B players were thrown into the mix, C players would eventually crop up, thus diluting the creative and productive spirit of his company.  Furthermore, a lot of companies will instil in its employees that it is all about what the customer wants, but Steve Jobs challenged that notion: “Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.” (© Isaacson: pg. 567).  He was definitely successful as he created the undeniable need of his iPad, a product that was never needed before.

I have barely just skimmed the surface of this rather insightful biography, so it is up to you, the readers, to determine whether or not this is a good read for you.  The one significant question that swirled around in my mind was what it took to create an exceptional product.  Therefore, I want to leave on this note.  Ask yourselves what kind of personality it takes to create and nurture such a successful company.  Is it the kind and understanding CEO, or is it the prickly and difficult one?

A Tale of Forgiveness

What does it mean to forgive?  To truly, completely, and compassionately forgive someone of all their misdeeds towards you?  It sounds really hard, a concept that takes a lot of individual strength.  Everyone has a story where forgiveness played an important role in their life, a proverbial fork in the road (if you will) that depended on forgiving someone or not.  Does following the expression, “forgive, but never forget” the correct way?  That implies installing a safety net of sorts, always holding back just in case it were to happen again. But, wouldn’t that mean you would be holding on to a grudge if you never forgot what they did?  On the other hand, is “to forgive is to forget” the right expression that explains the true concept, that forgiving means to forget the past?  Again I ask, what is the correct way to forgive?

by Kate PullingerReading the Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger brought up so many questions about forgiveness.  As I turned the pages, the unfortunate life of Sally Naldrett unravelled before my very eyes.  She was orphaned along with her sister Ellen, and then sold into a life of servitude.  She had a lust for loyalty, she lived it, and breathed it.  Yet, it was those who she was most loyal to that hurt her beyond compare.  They brutally shoved her aside and didn’t stand by her.  It was her attitude alone that really got me through this book.  I was ready to scream at the injustice she faced at the hands of her Lady, but it is the way in which she bore her struggles that really moved me.  The only person who really voiced Sally’s injustices was her sister Ellen:

“She told me I’d ruined your life. That you’d lost your position while I had flourished.  That I’d made my way by climbing on your shoulders, and allowing you to sink.  She said you’d end up in a London gutter and that it would be my fault entirely” (pg 242 -243).

It is how she responds to this that amazes me.  With a calm demeanour, thinking only about ending Omar’s misery about what he had so rightfully done, she replies that she is alright now.  WHAT?!?!  Words could not even begin to describe the anger bubbling inside me as she just, let this perfect opportunity to put him in his place go.  However, as I mulled this dialogue over, I realized that she remained the stronger one by not lashing out at him.  Throughout the entire novel, she remained strong and very much alive.  The juxtaposition of Sally and the sickly Lady who could not find it in her heart to forgive Sally for the secrets kept from her, only heightened Sally’s remarkable capacity for forgiveness.  Sally Naldrett’s story was a tale of forgiveness, ironically unforgiving and cruel.  [If you don’t quite get what I mean, pick up this novel!]    

This novel made me question if I was as able to forgive those as easily as she did, like the effortless flow of water trickling down a stream.  It is so easy to hold grudges and lash out, but it takes something else entirely to genuinely forgive someone.

Books vs. Tablets

With new advances in technology comes new innovations and space saving ideas.  A prime example are the tablets that Apple, Android, RIM, and Indigo have created to make reading more portable than ever before.  Some would argue that books have become obsolete, a distant memory of the past.

© Farrah Merza

However, I am pro books. I love the idea of going into a space dedicated to books, running my fingers across the spines of various novels, finally picking one that I feel will interest me more.  The idea of being curled up in a comfortable couch or lounging on a chaise, sipping a piping hot cup of coffee while reading books is just so much more romantic.  Call me crazy, but a library does not just play on the senses of touch and sight, but olfactory as well.  In other words, books and libraries have a smell to them.  Tablets could never replace this experience.

©Kobo

A lot of you out there would argue that printing books is an environmentalist’s nightmare.  I have even heard that book stores will shred books to get rid of their stock.  Now, I don’t know how much of the last statement is true.  But, if true, shame on you book stores!  But, in being the genius that I am (NOT!), I have a solution to the shredding of books (if true), buy more books!  Or, recycle these doomed books and use them to create new ones.  On the other hand, consider this as well you “pro-tabletists”, the energy used to create the tablets must be overwhelming, using precious and depleting fossil fuels in factories that burn carbon into our atmosphere.  Then, as technology advances, new and better models of tablets will be created, laying to rest the older and obsolete models to collect dust. On the other hand, even though the process is long, trees are actually a renewable resource.

I guess I’ll just leave it up to you then to determine whether I am completely mental, fighting for a dying art of reading, or have a point.  I’m going to cross my fingers, hoping that you will not think I’m mental… although some beg to differ.  Happy reading!

The exquisiteness of Bone China, a novel by Roma Tearne

by Roma Tearne
http://bit.ly/r0XBXp

Bone China by Roma Tearne has been called by The Times “a rich family saga that seizes the mind”.  The Times was right! I was personally drawn to this book as it centred around a Sri Lankan family living in the tumultuous times of the civil war, moving to England to escape it all.  I wanted to relate to it on a cultural level, and I did.  It took me a couple of chapters to really get into this book, but when I did I had found my thirst for reading.  I devoured the pages, engrossed in the de Silva’s saga and coming up for air ever once in a while, sipping my pumpkin spiced latte from Starbucks.  I scribbled furiously in my notebook as ideas just flowed and flowed. Upon re-reading my notes this morning, one paragraph really stuck out.  I’ve included it below:

“I feel, – upon reading further and further, ensnared in the events as they unfold -, like I’m bursting at the seams, brimming with emotions and ideas I want to share with the world.  But with the risk of this post turning into an essay, I have unwillingly restrained myself.  Perhaps I will break up this post, separating and piecing together all these emotions, symbolism and themes that are emerging before my very eyes.  At this point, I am furiously recording everything I feel, all the ideas and thoughts that pop into my mind with a borrowed pen from Starbucks.  As you can imagine, I am severely hindering myself, my own mind stopping the completion of this rich novel”

Reflecting back, I was really in a fervour to finish and I think that people must have thought I was crazy as I was writing and reading like a mad woman!  I was laughing at the funny moments, shocked when the plot took sudden twists, and tears threatened to spill while reading the sad moments.

The horrors of the civil war in Sri Lanka and its impact on the de Silva family was apparent.  Grace and Aloysius de Silva benefited from the British rule, but when the British left, they were left in ruin.   They were a dysfunctional family, but they crumbled when they went their separate ways: “They were in need of cherishing but this too was no longer available, and their likelihood of their recovery from such a brutal uprooting was a sad illusion” (pg. 179).  This quote foreshadows the years of doom and gloom the civil war will bring throughout the novel.  In fact, later on in the novel Sri Lanka is called a “poisoned paradise”.

“He saw what no one else did: that a mantle of despair was settling like fine grey dust on the distant island, clogging the air, blotting out its brilliance and choking its people.  And, as the dense rainforests turned slowly into pockets of ruins, and the last remnants of peace began to vanish, it seemed to those who loved the place that the dazzling colours of paradise would never be seen again” – pg. 165

The relationship between Anna-Meeka and her grandmother Grace tugged at my heart-strings.  Even though I did not have the same family situation as the de Silvas, I did relate to the physical similarities and cultural differences between Meeka and her grandmother.  I definitely felt tears prick my eyes when Meeka was reading Grace’s letters to her, reminding Meeka of the happiness she had felt in Sri Lanka with her grandmother, (her “other life” as Meeka would like to call it).  It reminded me of my relationship with my late grandmother, my mom’s “mummy”.  I was separated from her when I moved to Canada at the tender age of 5.  I remember how much I longed to have her with me, and how much I long to see her now even after her passing.  The last memory I have of her was sitting on her bed in our Columbo house among her rich yet simple saris, under the gentle whirring of the ceiling fan.  It is a gorgeous memory that I never want to let go.  Meeka’s uncles and aunts always commented on her striking resemblance to her grandmother, and these comments reminded me of my family members who have often made that remark about me and my grandmother.

As you can see, this novel definitely hit home for me.  I enjoyed this novel a lot and I hope that this novel will grace more bed side tables and purses because it truly is a spectacular read.

Tearne, Roma.  Bone China.  Great Britain: HarperPress, 2008. Print

Conspiracies and Angelology, a book review

http://bit.ly/ploO7H

Angelology, a book by Danielle Trussoni is a meticulously crafted thriller based upon the age-old theory that angels are among us.  A rather intriguing thought if you really think about it.  Angels descended down from the heavens as Watchers, who’s sole purpose was to watch humans from a distance.  However, the temptation that human women presented was too unbearable, thus giving rise to the Nephilim, half human and half Angel with the strength and beauty unknown to humans.  Their brilliant and iridescent wings are their most angelic quality.

In the beginning, we are introduced to the pious Evangeline who is very much clueless to her ancestors’ line of work and her birthright.  As a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration at the St. Rose Convent, her life is a strict religious routine.  However, this all changes when she stumbles across letters which tell of a correspondence with the late Mother Innocenta (who died in the fire of 1944) and Mrs. Rockefeller (a powerful woman from an influential family), and a chance meeting with Verlaine who was hired by Percival Grigori to collect information about the St. Rose Convent.  Before I get too excited and spoil the entire novel, I’ll stop.  All I’ll say is that I got consumed in the imagery and the plot.

Let me just say that I love buying books.  I love perusing the ails of a bookstore and I love to grasp at the pages of a beloved paperback, engrossed in a wonderfully spun plot.  I have one golden rule about selecting a book which has proven very useful in the whole process, which is to always read the first five pages.  Not only did the beautiful cover catch my eye, but the rather eloquent and metaphorically rich writing style kept me turning the pages.

Danielle Trussoni
http://bit.ly/nh00y9

With conspiracy theories running rampant in today’s world, the fascination behind uncovering an underlying yet powerful group pulling the strings behind all worldly events is becoming increasingly popular.  Take for example, the DaVinci Code.  I am not going to lie when I say that it really is an intriguing idea that something on a much grander scale is happening outside my rather busy and mundane life.  It is exciting to get lost in a fictitious world where mythical creatures are intertwined in the mortal coil.  Maybe that’s why vampires and werewolves are all the rage, taking film and literature by storm.   Angelology is a well crafted novel, a real page turner!  If you ask me, I could see this book turning into a fantastic film, although if it ever graces the film industry it better be good.