A tale of two continents

The Giants Look Down

 

Sonja Price

 

 

 

This gripping tale explores cultural differences, in two continents, through the life of Jaya and her brother.  An intelligent study of how one’s understanding of freedom is relative to education, experience and culture: a very poignant, contemporary message!

Jaya was born in a place where ‘the tiny mauve and yellow flowers danced in the breeze as the snowy summits of Pin Panjal meditated in the morning sun.’  Despite the beauty and implied freedom and romance of the landscape, the women are inhibited by their culture and the ugly politics of war torn Kashmir.  Jaya’s gentle, intelligent observations give an insight into her world as a Kashmiri girl.  Her mother asserts ‘you’re a girl’ and believes that ‘love rides on reason, not romance.’  It is clear Jaya is destined to search beyond this and it is impossible not to admire her questioning.

Jaya wishes on a ‘shooting star’ and the author maps out Jaya’s destiny beautifully.  The novel explores how the independent, free spirited mind can find flight if given the right opportunities.  But the opportunities must be accompanied with an inquiring mind. Jaya’s entrapment in Delhi is as stifling as the intense heat which ‘pressed down on city life like a giant hand.’ Her value, as a potential bride, diminishes once her parents have been killed.  She will find a way to escape a doomed arranged marriage – she is born to fight.

In contrast, Tahir, Jaya’s brother is forced to survive in a world of violence.  Here, Price examines how the innocent, accepting mind can become involved in terrorism.  Tahir’s life is written in the third person as he never finds his own voice.  Jaya’s story is written in the first person so that you can recognise her strength and identity.  She wants to be a wife ‘but (she) wasn’t going to give up everything.’  Ironically, the masculine stereotype and expectations shackle Tahir to a life of unfulfillment. Sadly, a lack of ambition and opportunity forces Tahir to accept his comrades as family.

Like her father, Jaya leaves ‘The Giants’ behind and moves to Scotland.  The cool Scottish breeze brings a fresh new perspective to Jaya’s life.  ‘The ocean! A slate grey stretching out to the horizon’ is symbolic of Jaya’s freedom and endless possibilities.  Meanwhile, her brother remains in Kashmir, and Tahir, believes the British to be the destructive force in his country.  He asks a British man, ‘Have you thought about the devastation your empire has left behind?’  He is unable to see how different cultures can collaborate and learn from each other. Tahir fights for his confused perception of freedom while his sister, Jaya, fights to save lives.  Jaya and Tahir’s father was a doctor. Jaya’s father involved her in his mission of caring for everyone, regardless of religion or race.

Jaya learns to inhabit the space between two cultures and finds her identity.  Her love for Alistair gives her stability, purpose and strength. Tahir is tormented by:

‘The poverty, the beauty, the peace and the violence.  Such extremes separated by the blink of an eyelid.

Tahir never examines his own world as he is too caught up in the conflict and grudges.   The natural ebb and flow of the Jaya’s narrative is enchanting while we never get inside of Tahir’s confused, inhibited mind.  The tale of two continents explores cultural difference: it is a wonderful book of contrasts.  For instance, the peaceful setting Kashmir Valley translates ‘paradise on earth’ yet it conceals conflict.  Jaya questions: ‘How could the landscape be beautiful when Alistair was suffering?’ Like Jaya, one must look beneath the surface.

This novel teaches us to have a respect and understanding of other cultures but we need the freedom to ask questions and pursue our ambition: above all, everyone needs to be loved. ‘Azadi’ (freedom) is a state of mind influenced by opportunities, the people we meet and the strength to ask pertinent questions.

A sensitive, well-crafted narrative that explores challenging themes through a beautiful central character. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly!

 

Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

Innocence and Experience in my Vintage Handbag

Maggie Christensen the Good Sister

The Good Sister

Maggie Christensen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maggie’s inspiration for the novel

A haunting introduction from a dying woman commences this story. Isobel has written the story of her life for Bel, her niece, to read.  The narrative of the past begins in the thirties, and Isobel’s past life punctuates events in the present day.

Isobel has remained in the same house her entire life while her niece escaped to Australia.  Bel’s move to Australia symbolises the freedom of her generation – she could walk on the ‘long stretches of sand’ and feel the sun on her skin.

Glasgow: ‘She raised her eyes to the grey sky and shivered.’

In contrast Isobel has lived in cold, grey and rainy Glasgow and was inhibited by her morals. But morals seemed to have been loosened, for others, during the uncertainty of war.   But a chill of despair runs throughout Isobel’s life.

I admire the emotional parallels between Isobel’s love for Bob and Bel’s stirrings of a new love, as a mature woman,in her sixties. The contrast between Isobel’s innocence and Bel’s experience is moving; there is a beautiful connection in the feelings. I loved Isobel as she wasn’t bitter about her ‘lost chances’. Isobel seems to seek peace in orchestrating new romance for her niece.  She tells Bel, ‘I want you to get to know each other.’ The elderly lady intervenes in her niece’s happiness because she neglected her own pursuit of happiness.

The mystery of why Isobel remained alone, intrigues Bel and the reader.  Bel’s frustration with her aunt’s passivity, when younger, demonstrates the differences in the generations.

‘Bel couldn’t believe her aunt had been so foolish.’

One does wonder why Isobel denied herself opportunities, but I also felt completely frustrated with Isobel’s love interest, Bob.  Bob is also a victim of the era, as he fails to communicate with Isobel.  I really wanted to know what was happening inside Bob’s mind, and perhaps this is another novel. Why didn’t Bob speak with Isobel? I was furious with him, at times – but that is the fun of reading.

Fashion in Forties

Despite inhibitions, Isobel does have economic independence through the dress shop.  The shop is called ‘Plain and Fancy’, and I wanted to step back in time to visit place.  Perhaps, I could have found a fancy vintage handbag. Isobel’s glamorous presence throughout the novel is impressive.  Isobel is glamorous yet vulnerable, but her life experience translates into a formidable character in old age.  This made me reflect on how we change according to our experiences.

The contrast between the innocence of the young Isobel and experience of the mature Bel is poignant.  It is as if the two characters are one person experiencing the same life in a different era. The novel also shows us that ‘lost chances’ can be avoided, particularly in the twenty first century.

This is a charming, heart-warming story of second chances and the strength of family support.  The narrative moves at a good pace. I found myself hanging on to every word of Isobel’s story and willing Bel to unite with the enigmatic solicitor.  I hope there will be a sequel to this novel!

Maggie Christensen

 

 

 

 

 

To find out more about the author, Maggie Christensen and heart-warming stories of second chances see:

http://maggiechristensenauthor.com/
https://www.facebook.com/maggiechristensenauthor
https://twitter.com/MaggieChriste33
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8120020.Maggie_Christensen
https://www.instagram.com/maggiechriste33/

 

Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my website and blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

Hogmanay, Highlands and Handbags

With Hogmanay knocking on the door, and my new hiking books in the hall, I have been dreaming of Scotland.  I yearn to greet Robert Burns’s Highlands in the summer. Stories and adventures are sure to be waiting in the ‘green vallies’ and ‘wild- hanging woods’.  Alas, my neighbour, Hamish, has warned me of the ‘hungry beasties’ – the mischievous midges.  And I hate the blighters, as I am sure to become their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Exploring the literature about Scotland, I found ‘One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in the Modern World’, by Signe Pike.  Pike explains:

‘But in the Scottish Highlands, with their dark brooding mountains and eerie highland lakes, villagers warned of deadly water kelpies and spirit characters that packed a bit more punch.’

Perhaps, dear old Hamish is introducing me to the magic of the Highlands; and is referring to the beautiful spirits hiding in the lochs.  I can hear something whispering, ‘A dinnae ken’, to me.  Viewing online images of Scotland tempts me to explore the ‘brooding’ wilderness sculpted by nature.  Like a warrior blogger, I must face the midges!  And my brother suggests keeping some citronella spray in my handbag. Does this deter the midges, or would it be like marinating myself for the blighters’ lunch? Any advice is welcome.

So, while searching for the perfect romantic bothy, I have just found a bothy bag.  This is a survival bag that transforms into a tent.  Perfect!  I can fill this with books for my adventure. And if the midges appear, I will simply hide in the bothy bag and read.  Please recommend some books set in Scotland to prepare me for my adventure.

I can recommend the Daniela Sacerdoti novels set in the Highlands in which she paints a vivid picture of ‘…the windswept Scottish sky and black silhouette of pinewoods, a hint of mist resting on the land and the white ghostly moon peering…’, and this rekindles my yearning to visit Scotland. Ah yes, I will have to stash away Lizzie Lamb’s Highland romances. I wonder if Lizzie knows the best time of year to avoid the midges?

I will search for a holiday bothy in this glorious tide of time between Christmas and Hogmanay.  Once the bothy has been located, I will then begin to plan a menu for the end of year celebrations.  It is a tradition for the family or friend member, with the darkest hair, to open the front door to let the old year out.  This becomes a struggle as our hair turns grey, but I like to refer to MacLeod in the Highlander:

‘ “To see the years touch ye gives me joy,” he whispers, “ for it means ye live.”’

And, I wish to end the year with the celebration of life!

 

Please see all my adventures at Handbag Adventures and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.