The good thing about being sick for a long time with out either internet access (besides my phone) or a television is that it gives you plenty of time to read. And my favorite thing to read when I’m sick is a book that takes me someplace I’ve never been before. This time I adventured to India, Switzerland, and the Future respectively.
The Future: The Map of Time by Felix J Palma: This three-part tome (at 609 pages, I feel I can call it that without exaggerating) was a fantastic story, blending the real personas of H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, and Jack the Ripper with the fictional stylings of a carefully planned time-travel ruse that saves a suicidal youth’s life, a scam time-traveling company that fools everyone- even the Queen, a dock worker-cum-actor who pretends to be a general from the future and accidentally falls in love with a socialite who believes his ruse, and the accidental discovery of a real time traveler wreaking havoc in Victorian London.
I tried to play it cool and pretend I wasn’t obsessed with this story, but it didn’t work. I loved it! I talked about theories of time travel with my husband over dinner, and I carried it around with me in purse in spite of its considerable weight and size, which left room for little else even in my usually roomy handbag. It was, however, long. And though Palma does an excellent job of weaving the three seemingly unrelated sections together into a surprisingly unified whole, and also of turning the time-traveling genre on its ear, there were times when I felt bogged down. It was engaging, and it kept me guessing, but I wouldn’t call it fast paced. Filled with romance, intrigue, mystery, and a plethora of colorful, well-developed characters, The Map of Time is not an undertaking for the faint of heart, impatient, or short on time, but for those who do brave its pages there is much to be gained. I want to say more, but i don’t want to give anything away! I will say, however, that Palma is an expert story-teller, and I hope more of his works are translated into English soon.
India: Sideways on a Scooter by Miranda Kennedy: Kennedy wanted to leave behind her New York City radio job and be a foreign correspondent. Even more than that, she wanted to live in India, to experience the adventure of completely submerging herself in the totally foreign life of a totally foreign culture. So instead of waiting for life to hand her her dreams, Miranda boarded a plane for New Delhi and decided to take fate into her own hands. This memoir follows Miranda’s journey to discover herself in a new world and her struggles to mesh her western life and identity with the still very traditional Indian culture. It also follows the stories of seven women she meets on her five-year journey, and their struggles to adapt as their traditional, caste bound system begins to clash with a quickly globalizing city life. I was quickly drawn in by Kennedy’s vivid descriptions and journalistic prose. She managed to cover most of the large issues confronting today’s Indian woman, from arranges marriage vs. “love matches,” to birth control and gender-picking abortions, and she does so all through the lens of these seven friends. From her Brahmin widow maid, Radha, who thinks that cats are vermin and touching a toilet is a fate worse than death, to Geeta, her spunky Punjabi friend who struggles to find a balance between her life as a “modern girl” living alone and working in the city and her desire for a traditional, arranged marriage, to Azmat, her Muslim friend who works at a women-only gym and always finds the joy in life despite her dwindling prospects of ever having a family, I fell in love with the cast of colorful and quirky, but earnest and honest characters. And though I was disappointed at the hardened edge she developed as the story went one, I also appreciated Miranda’s honesty about her own struggles, from being able to find an apartment in a country where a woman living alone often signified her profession as a prostitute, to the deeper issues of how to be truly intimate and build lasting relationships with anyone, family, friends, men, while struggling to find your identity and worth as a woman. Every woman, be they American, European, Indian, has been faced with the same dilemma: we want to be mothers and wives, but we want our passions too, be they a career or experiences or just the freedom to wear whatever clothes we choose. The world has started to tell us we can have it all, but they don’t tell us how. Sideways on a Scooter is an honest, messy, beautiful portrait of struggling to discover the how.
Switzerland: And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle: Madeleine L’Engle is quite possibly my favorite writer. Her prose is masterful, and she has a way of connecting with the reader in a way that, no matter the circumstance she is relaying, one feels instantly connected to and a part of the experience. I have never traveled via time wrinkles, but every time I read A Wrinkle in Time, I feel akin to Meg Murray in a moving, intimate way. Certain Women is one of my favorite books, and despite the fact that my father never had eight wives and a selfish steak ten miles wide, it still resonated deep within my chest. I’ve hoping to read all the L’Engle books I haven’t experienced yet in the next few years anyway, and then I saw this article about the Madeleine L’Engle re-read (though for me this one is a first-read), and the deal was sealed.
“I saw two beings in the hues of youth/Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill…/And both were young- and one was beautiful.” Lord Byron, The Dream, Canto II
I was hooked from the beautiful epigraph on, reading this little beauty in just over three hours. This isn’t her best work, but L’Engle does present a solidly entertaining and touching story. It has been a year since Phillipa “Flip” Hunter’s mother died in a tragic accident, and her artist father, who has to travel a lot for his work, has decided to send her to a boarding school in Switzerland so they can at least spend the Holiday’s together. Though she feels awkward and unsure around the usual cast of boarding school girls, Flip forms a friendship with Paul, a handsome local boy with no memory of his past. Through their connection, Phillipa learns to be happy where she is despite her insecurities and deep homesickness for her father, and Paul begins to heal from the trauma of his past. Though the ending is tied up a little too neatly, and the subplot of Paul’s lost-and-found memory is a little shaky, I really enjoyed this book, my favorite moment being L’Engle’s observation that it is the tragedies and sorrows of life that make us stronger, that give us depth and give joy its greatest meaning. I certainly could have used that message when I was a teenager, and it resonates deeply with me today, only now it is from experience and not need. I also like the insight into the lives of European young adults so soon after WWII, as well as the glimpse of an awkward, bookish, artsy type we are afforded here, because that’s exactly what I was in my youth, and that is exactly what I still feel like in the quiet, still moments. Overall, a fun and worthy read.
You know what else being home-bound gives you lots of time for? Cat pictures! I bet you though I’d forgotten all about Caturday, huh? Well, for those of you who endured ’til the end, here is a super-secret, mini-Caturday:
Top left: This is what I call Cambria’s “Children of The Corn” pose, because she sits perfectly erect and totally quiet behind you, and when you turn around it’s almost creepy, or it would be if she wasn’t such a cutie-face.
Top right: Cambria’s newest obsession: the bath tub. She’s started sniffing around it when she thinks no one is looking, and she even jumped in it this week when she thought it was empty, but in fact has about an inch of water in the bottom. I’ve never seen a cat poof into a total fuzzball so fast before, and she cleaned herself for a solid hour, mewing angrily if anyone dared speak to or touch her.
Bottom left: Cambria sleeps on the book I’m trying to read, per usual.
Bottom right: This is the position that I call “The Cat-sserole,” and when she’s in it you could set off the fire alarm in our apartment while elephants stampeded down the hallway, and she still wouldn’t wake up.
And that’s that. Happy Caturday, friends!