Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Hindi-Bindi Club

Title: The Hindi-Bindi Club
Author: Monica Pradhan
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 431
Edition: Hardcover

I am not a big fan of chick-lit novels, but after reading 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', I had to go look for one. I needed it like some sort of a breather. And 'The Hindi-Bindi Club' perfectly fitted the bill. Immigrant stories always intrigue me and one that has mouth-watering recipes sprinkled all over was something equivalent to a double-chocolate delight waiting to devoured.

Kiran Deshpande, a 32-year-old doctor, is a headstrong valiant girl, heart-broken from a divorce with a rock-star musician. Her home-coming for the holidays, after nearly 5 years, makes her rather nervous as she is about to confront her parents with her struggles from the past. Will she be able to reconcile the differences she had with her father, Yash, as he never consented her previous marriage? Will she find the strength in her to cope with the shocking truth her mother, Meenal Deshpande, is about to reveal? Is the arranged marriage, an idea she once scoffed at, the righteous choice after her past failure?

Preity Chawla, happily married and mother of two children, enjoys a picture perfect life. Atleast, that's what everyone thinks. She torments herself with a love affair she was forced to let go by her mother. She feels disheartened as her mother, Saroj Chawla, fails to acknowledge her feelings and encourages her to move on. Will Preity reconcile her differences with Saroj?

Rani Tomashot, daughter of Uma, abandoned her career as a rocket scientist to become an artist. Even after a successful solo exhibit, she suffers from bouts of depression and feels apprehensive about her future as an artist. Will Rani be able to fight the inner demons that threaten to engulf her?

Meenal, Saroj and Uma, members of the 'Hindi-Bindi Club' (nick-name given by their daughters), have compelling stories of their own. Meenal fights long and hard to make the relationship between Kiran and Yash work. And she is yet to reveal to Kiran an agonizing experience she recently underwent. Saroj harbours a secret that could prossibly wreck her marriage and struggles to come to grips with her past. Uma, wife of an Irish-American, started her life fresh in a foreign soil. Her marriage was never approved by her family and her obstinate dad forbids her from visiting her home country ever again. She never settled scores with her father before leaving the country and now that he is dead, it haunts her forever.

As the author, Monica Pradhan, adeptly juggles the intertwining lives of her fictional characters, she beautifully brings out the emotional struggle between mothers and daughters. Her writing style is so evocative that she makes you empathize with her characters. There is enough meat in this book that it may not be a bad idea after all to weave a Bollywood movie out of it. The traditional Indian recipes affixed to the end of each chapter adds an elegant touch to the book.

My Rating: 3.5/5

What better way to end the review than posting my favorite recipe from the book?

Coconut Custard Cake (Bebinca)
Serves: 6 - 8

2 cups coconut milk
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 cup rice flour
10 egg yolks lightly beaten
3/4 cup melted ghee
3 tspn toasted almond slices
1/2 tspn salt
1/4 tspn ground cardamom
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F
2. In a small saucepan over very low heat, combine coconut milk and brown sugar stirring frequently until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.
3. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt, cardamom & nutmeg.
4. Stir in coconut milk mixture to dry ingredients, then add egg yolks. Mix until smooth neither too dry nor too runny. Add a little water if too dry or a little flour if too thin.
5. Grease a deep 7 inch round aluminum pan with 2 tbsp ghee.
6. Pour 1 cup of batter into pre-greased pan. Set on middle rack of oven. Bake until top turns golden. Remove from oven. Pour 1 tbsp ghee over top layer. Using spatula, remove pancake and stack on plate.
7. Repeat step 6 until all batter is finished. stack all pancakes in a pan and bake 15 minutes.
8. Cool to room temperature. Turn pan upside down onto plate. Gently extract Bebinca so the shape stays intact.
9. Garnish with toasted almond slices. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Title: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 384
Edition: Hardcover

Hosseini enjoyed a phenomenal success with his debut novel 'A Kite Runner', an unforgettable story of two boys growing up in Kabul. It was published in 42 different languages and hovered on the NewYork Times Bestseller list for over 2 years. He derived the title for his latest novel from a 17th century poem "One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls." by Saib-e-Tabrizi in praise of Kabul. In 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', Hosseini depicts a searingly painful story of two Afghan women in a war torn Afghanistan. After languishing in the obscurity for many years, the hapless burqa-clad afghan women would find their voices in this deeply touching novel.
Part I - Mariam, referred by her mother as a 'harami' (bastard), is the illegitimate 15 year-old daughter of Jalil, a wealthy business man and cinema house owner in Herat. She grows up with her mother in a 'kolba', built by Jalil and his sons on the outskirts of the city. Jalil lives with his 3 wives and nine legitimate children and his family is a forbidden territory to Mariam and her mother. Mariam adores her father and his visit on every Thursday, but she fervently wishes to be a part of his family. One day she leaves the kolba to find Jalil, but she was sent back forcefully after spending a sleepless night outside his house. In a feeling of utter desolation, Mariam's mother hangs herself in a tree and Jalil is left with no choice but to take Mariam back home. She is soon married off to Rasheed, a shoe-maker in Kabul.
Part II - Laila, the young daughter of university-educated teacher, grows up in the same neighborhood of Kabul. She falls in love with Tariq, a one-legged boy, who is determined to marry her. However, the Afghan war throws her in the streets of Kabul, destitute and orphan. Due to a tumultuous change of events, she too gets married to Rasheed.

The desolate lives of Mariam and Laila in the hands of Rasheed and the unexpected twists and turns of fate brought into their world forms the rest of the story.

Afghanistan has had a troubled past and women never had the freedom they longed for. They always adhered to rules, never left home without a man, wore a burqa at all times, and never questioned authority. The oppressed lives of the afghan women during the Taliban regime has been portrayed in this book through the story of Mariam and Laila. These women succumbed to brutality day after day wishing it would end soon. Several chapters in this book are devoted to the monstrous cruelty these women were subjected to and I had to clench my fists, grit my teeth and choke back my tears to get through the pages. I practically devoured the book as soon as it arrived on my hands and the emotional journey I traversed was almost unbearable. Not too often does one come across a book as emotionally powerful as this one and it left me aching for more!

My Rating: 5/5

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lisa See @ the Bee Book Club Event

Lisa See, the author of NewYork Times Bestseller 'The SnowFlower and the Secret Fan' appeared last night for the Bee Book Club at the Tsakapoulos Library Galleria in downtown Sacramento, for her latest novel 'Peony in Love'. Set in 17th century China, the book is a coming-of-age story of Peony, a young 16-year-old who become obsessed with the opera 'The Peony Pavilion'. Talking about her latest book, See mentioned "It's based on a true story about three young women who were married to the same man. They were part of a category known as 'Lovesick Maidens,' women who would catch a case of lovesickness, waste away and die. Their poetry and stories would be published after their deaths. It's another piece of cultural history that was lost".

She shared with the audience some interesting facts about the History of China, opera 'Peony Pavilion' and Chinese afterlife. Here are some:

1. Foot-Binding, an ancient custom in China began in the 10th century, during the late Tang dynasty and lasted over a 1000 years, is a tradition of binding a young girl’s feet by bending the toes inward and breaking the arch of the foot, so that the women’s feet would fit the ideal “golden lotus”. Young girls endure the agonising experience of having their feet broken and squished, over a period of 2 years, so that its no more than the size of a thumb. Why would they do it? Well, for several reasons.

If her foot was not bound, she was more like a man and would bring shame to the family. Also, with a bound foot, she could walk more beautifully, resembling flowers in the wind, showing more diginity. Foot Binding was often a prerequisite for marriage. “A daughter carried the reputations of her family and her husbands family on her bound feet” was a common belief and a man from a reputed family will not marry a woman with a larger feet.

2. Chinese celebrate the dead often and believed in several kinds of ghosts, of which 'Hungry Ghost' is noteworthy of mention. 'Hungry Ghosts' can never become ancestors and are often unmarried girls. They can walk only in straight lines, are scared of ferns and loathe mirrors. As the name suggests, they are always hungry and wandering souls, but on the 14th day of the seventh full moon, a feast was offered for the hungry ghosts. It was believed that they come out and stuff their faces with food and go back to the underworld, destined to roam in agony until the next Feast. Another kind, the 'Barber Ghost' which has a special fondness for men, often shave the heads of sleeping men leaving an indelible mark forever.

3. 'Ghost Weddings' was another ancient tradition observed in some parts of china, where families seek 'ghost bride' as an afterlife spouse for their dead sons. In parts of Shanxi province, farmers match suitable skeletons and organise engagements, weddings, gifts, dowries and celebration dinners for the families.

About Lisa See: Born in Paris, she grew up in Los Angeles, spending much of her time in China Town. She has over 400 relatives in LA China town alone. She grew up listening to her grandmother's stories about China and its culture. Her first book, On Gold Mountain was a family memoir of the journey of her great-grandfather, Fong See, who became the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles’s Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family. As far as her writing goes, she gets very obsessed with her characters and she is never done with them even after the completion of the book.

Next Book: 'Shanghai Girls' (tentatively named), follows the lives of two sisters growing up in 1937 Shanghai who travel to United States after arranged marriage, and settle down in China Town called the 'China City'.

Last but not the least, the Bee Book Club also hosted a raffle prize game and guess who the winner is ;)

Here's my bounty:

Quite an eventful day, overall! And, how incredibly lucky I am to win the raffle :) What next? Well, Read 'Peony in Love'.