Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Milk Memos: How Real Moms Learned to Mix Business with Babies-and How You Can, Too

Title: The Milk Memos
Author: Cate Colburn-Smith, Andrea Serrette
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 384
Edition: Paperback

Motherhood is a demanding, completely exhausting yet the most rewarding experience on the face of earth. There's a plethora of books about motherhood and child-care offering tons of parental wisdom to new parents. "Milk Memos" is one-of-a-kind book I recommend to any nursing mom. Though it primarily focuses on breastfeeding and how to balance motherhood and career, it offers insightful advice on subjects that matters to working moms such as finding the right day-care for your baby, getting a decent night's sleep and how to negotiate with your employer for part-time, flextime work. The story of how this book came into existence is quite interesting. "It all began when IBM manager Cate Colburn-Smith sat down in the company’s employee lactation room, shed a few silent tears, and wrote this on a paper towel: I’m a new mom and today is my first day back at work. Is anyone else using this room?" Fellow nursing moms at IBM responded and hence began to communicate with each other through notebooks offering support and sharing advice while pumping away in the former janitor's closet (turned into a lactation room). Being a nursing mom, I could relate to most of the stories and they often made me cry one minute and laugh hysterically the next. At times, it makes you feel empathetic. A sample journal entry: "You're not going to believe what happened to me this morning! I was in a team meeting because I'm the official note-taker. The meeting went on and on, and I kept hoping for a break, knowing I needed to pump. My boss whispered to me, "I think you're leaking." I was mortified. There were nine people in the room, and there were two wet circles on my shirt. One woman handed me some tissues. At first I thought that she wanted me to dab my shirt - as if that would help. Then she motioned to me that I should stuff them into my bra. Like I'm going to reach inside my shirt right there at the conference table! But I couldn't just get up and leave (God forbid - not with my boss)...All I wanted to do was pump, which totally made the leaking worse! By the time the meeting ended the small circles were big bull's eyes! Hope your day is going better than mine!". I am skeptical if any book on breastfeeding could be as entertaining and delightful as this one. Juggling between work and newborn is often challenging but can be done. And "Milk Memos" shows you how. A Wonderful book!
My Rating: 4.8/5

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Title: The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Author: Kim Edwards
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 401
Edition: Hardcover

1964. Lexington, KY. Pregnant Norah Asher goes into labor during the middle of a raging snowstorm. The relentless weather forces Norah and her husband Dr. David Henry, an orthopedic surgeon, to stop by his clinic for the delivery. Aided by nurse Caroline Gill, David delivers his son Paul, a healthy baby. But, David was totally unprepared for what was about to come next. A baby girl, Phoebe born with Down Syndrome -- "unmistakable features, the eyes turned up as if with laughter, the epicanthal fold across their lids, the flattened nose, the gap between her big toes and the others, Brushfield spots, as tiny and distinct as flecks of snow in the irises". David wants to spare Norah a lifetime of grief and hence makes an impulsive decision. He instructs Caroline to take Phoebe to an institution and tells Norah that Phoebe died at birth - an action he would repent forever. Caroline was too kind-hearted to leave Phoebe at the institution and she decides to raise Phoebe as her own. Caroline loves Phoebe ferociously and endures hardship to give her the education she deserves. While Phoebe grows up feeling happy and secured, Paul ends up being neglected and unloved. Norah longs to mourn for her lost child, but David refuses to acknowledge it. Their lives continue to drift apart. Grappled with grief, Norah turns her attention to a demanding career and meaningless affairs. And David is so guilt-ridden he distances himself from his own family. He seeks solace in photography. Even though his behavior is despicable, the author makes you empathize with him all along. I kept wondering if he would ever divulge the secret to Norah and the fact that he never did was unfathomable to me. Melancholy seeps through every page of this book. The characters are real, interesting and well developed. I was impressed with the way this novel explored the fragility of marriage and how love, pain and grief could shatter the basic intimacy between even the strongest bonds of relationsips. A Fascinating Read!
My Rating: 4.7/5

Other Notable Works By the Author: 'The Secrets of a Fire King' - Shortlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Climbing the Mango Trees

Title: Climbing the Mango Trees
Author: Madhur Jaffrey
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 296
Edition: Hardcover

Madhur Jaffrey, a renowned cookbook author and an award-winning actress recaptures her childhood in India in this purely delightful memoir 'Climbing the Mango Trees'. After reading a wonderful review of this book by Lovely Lotus, I couldn't resist nabbing a copy of it from the local library. As Madhur (meaning "sweet as honey") walks down the memory lane recounting her early childhood days in Delhi at her grandparent's house, growing up with her siblings and cousins, convent education, weekend picnics, tiffin-box lunches, scrumptious dinners enjoyed with her family, parties and marriages and all, it brought back endless reminiscences of my childhood too. My brother and I grew up in a joint family system with about half-dozen cousins at my grandparent's place during our early childhood. While the elders in the house snored away after a delicious four or five-course meal, We would sneak into the backyard and climb the guava tree with a tiny sack of spicy mixture (salt, chilli powder and cumin) tied under the waist. Each cousin would cling onto a branch and the delicious guavas would be handed down one by one and we would make an instant guava chaat sitting on the branch. With our eyes gleaming with mischief and pleasure and our feet dangling precariously in the air, we would start devouring them with its juices running down our hands. To our dismay, the guava tree was cut down later and replaced with a water well to meet the ever growing demands of water supply. But that didn't stop us from having fun either. We used to run around the water well chasing madly with slopping buckets of water and we would shriek with laughter as we splash each other the icy-cold water. The Tricycle Rickshaw rides we used to take to school was something I looked fwd to every single day. But, my brother was deprived of this sheer fun until he was old enough to go to school. As I settled myself among hordes of other children in the Rickshaw, my brother merely 2 years old would stomp down the alley with a tiny slate tucked under his arm, wailing his heart out to join the ride. Dodging the potholes in the muddy ground, the Rickshaw wallah would pedal his way out and enchant us with songs from old movies and our tiffin-boxes clinking on one another would merrily chime in. When the lunch bell rings, we would jauntily walk past the classrooms to seek haven under the shelters of the Neem trees and sink our teeth into some of the delectable Potato Curries, Rotis and Parathas. Oh, What about those midday ice cream treats? The ice cream man would walk past our compound and would keep blaring the little green horn affixed to his bicycle until we start flying down the alley, with the heart pounding in our chests, a few coins cupped in our little hands and surround him like a swarm of bees. One of my favorite memories of my childhood was those occasional moonlit dinners. On Full moon days, my grandmother and mom would prepare mouth-watering dishes and everyone in the family would clamber up the steps of the terrace and we would all sit in a huddle. As my grandma carefully placed a dollop of food on each of our palm, she would regale us with stories of her childhood. Basking in the glow of full moon, we would sit there staring at her as if in trance, while anxiously waiting for the food to be dropped in our palm. With a smile lingering on my lips, I found myself going back to those wonderful days, as I turned every page of this book. Not only does Madhur share her good ol' days, she also gives away some of her wonderful family recipes. The beautiful black-and-white pictures from her family album interspersed throughout adds an elegant touch to the book. An absolutely enthralling read!
My Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Winner

'The Book of Chameleons' by Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa has won the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Originally published in Portuguese, the novel was translated by Daniel Hahn.
According to The Independent, "The novel mixes comedy, tragedy and touches of fantasy as it explores the recent history of the former Portuguese colony, whose independence in 1975 was followed by more than 20 years of bloody civil war." To read more, go here.
José Eduardo Agualusa's 1997 novel Creole won Portugal's Grand Prize for Literature.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

So Many Ways To Begin

Title: So Many Ways to Begin
Author: Jon McGregor
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 343
Edition: Hardcover

'So Many Ways to Begin', the second novel by Jon McGregor, beautifully captures the emotional upheaval of a man who struggles to comprehend the mystery behind his birth. Set in post WWII times in Coventry, England, the novel opens with Mary Friel, a young Irish girl, who leaves her hometown Donegal and travels to England to work as a housemaid. Even though Mary intends to go about her business unnoticed, she couldn't but help attract her employer and ends up getting pregnant. She delivers a baby in a local hospital in London and disappears mysteriously. This prologue sets a compelling stage for the story that's about to unravel. The story leans heavily on David Carter, the chief protagonist of the novel. Driven by a passion for collecting historical artifacts, David Carter couldn't be any happier when he lands up a job as a curator in a local history museum in London. David leads a joyous life with his loving wife Eleanor and daughter until one day his Auntie Julia, a friend of his mother Dorothy Carter, reveals a family secret. Auntie Julia, suffering from a mental illness, blurts out that David was adopted as a child and his biological mother left behind no trace of identity. Shocked by Julia's revelations, David begins to trace his biological mother. Haunted by the past, David jeopardizes his curator job that he so passionately dreamed about. On his voyage to self-discovery, David also has to deal with Eleanor's bouts of depression and a disappointing affair he ends up with. I felt the story dragged a wee bit towards the end as the reunion of David with his bio-mother doesn't happen until the last few chapters. The family reunion didn't bring me on the verge of tears, as I expected it would, but David's troubled past is upsetting enough and makes the story compelling. A simple storyline with an intricate style of writing!!
My Rating: 4/5

Other Notable Works By the Author: 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' - Nominated for the Booker Prize, shortlisted for the 2003 Times Young Writer Award, and won the Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award.