Behind Closed Doors

A couple of years ago, I read a book with the same title, Behind Closed Doors, by another author. I still remember how much I enjoyed it and went on to read other books by this author. When I saw this book by Susan Lewis, I knew I just had to borrow it. I’ve read a few of her books over the years and was never disappointed. Hence I had high expectations.

I had expected secrets, mystery, suspense and drama since the main plot is about 14-year-old Sophie Monroe who suddenly vanishes. There seems to be more to her disappearance than teenage rebellion. During the investigation, led by Detective Sergeant Andrea Lawrence, underlying issues within a community begin to surface. For a while, the story is engaging because there are several subplots and twists.

However, as the fate of Sophie is revealed about 80% way through the book, everything starts to go downhill. Perhaps this is Lewis’s way of preparing for a sequel or even a new series featuring Andrea, but I felt the last quarter of the book a big let down. Instead of an intriguing mystery till the end, the reveal is abrupt and the last quarter of the book is disconnected and unsatisfactory.

Cut

When I saw this book on the same shelf as Saving Safa, I just had to borrow it as well. Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today by Hibo Wardere is a completely engrossing and emotional read.

Hibo Wardere’s memoir is remarkable: honest, empowering and informative. In describing her own horrific experiences as a six-year-old, she reveals intricate details of the medieval and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation. Reading about her move to the UK and her attempt to come to terms with what was done to her, and the effect it has had on her life, and her efforts to expose current practice across the world, raise awareness and educate people to try to stop such brutality, I have great admiration for her incredible courage.

FGM is abusive and harmful. It is inhumane, excruciatingly painful and demeaning, with high risk of vile infection and averse effects on the girls’ mental well-being throughout their lives. It is devastating to read about the number of girls who are still subject to this horrendous practice in the twenty-first century not just in rural Africa but also developed Western countries. The number of young girls dying of hemorrhaging and infection across 29 countries globally is shocking.

This is a gut-wrenching book written with heart and soul that should be read by everybody.

Saving Safa

I had been fascinated by Waris Dirie’s autobiography (Desert Flower) some years ago but never got to watch the film adaptation, so I was particularly keen to pick up Saving Safa: Rescuing a Little Girl from FGM. Safa played the young Waris in the film.

This grim story of female genital mutilation opens with a letter from the seven-year-old Safa to Waris in which she expressed her worries that she would have to undergo FGM in spite of the contract her parents signed with Waris’ Desert Flower Foundation stating that they will never have their daughter cut. Waris drops everything and flies to Djibouti in Africa where she meets Safa’s parents… …

It is terrifying that something as horrific as FGM is still going on today. (Another book I’m reading now is Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today by Hibo Wardere, which I shall comment on in my next blog post.)

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

A friend sent me the above picture of The Reluctant Foundationalist after reading it in record time. She had found the book while decluttering her bookshelves. It piqued my interest enough that I went to the library to borrow it after a project discussion as I couldn’t wait for the time when we would meet, due to the COVID-19 situation.

The book I loaned from the library has a different cover:

I immediately recognised it as a movie I had watched some years ago which I found so boring that I dozed off many times. All I remember is that the pace is slow and sluggish. I thought perhaps this is an occasion when reading the book would be better.

The story is about a young Pakistani who went to the United States for studies and later got a lucrative job. In his dramatic monologue (yes, a 209-page monologue), he detailed the events of his life. Somehow, I felt this is not a personal tale but a metaphorical one. Obvious allegories include his girlfriend Erica (Am-Erica), the name of his company, Underwood Sampsons (US) and his nameļ¼ŒChangez (a foreigner).

His disdain for Americans tells of his sense of slowly growing bitterness and isolation, reflecting the emotions of the younger generation of Eastern countries when they work for a Western country which is making the life of their own people back home miserable. This is the new generation that had worked their brains hard, can speak English effortlessly and are starting at salaries which are more than their fathers’.

Yes, I like the book much more than the movie. (At least I wasn’t tempted to doze off!) Still, I would not be reading any book in this genre any time soon.

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets

Once in a while, there comes a time when I stumble upon a book that engages me so much that I can’t turn the pages fast enough until I’m three-quarter way through the story, then feel somewhat far from satisfied because it’s coming to the end and obviously there will be unresolved issues when there’re no more pages to turn.

One such book is The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader.

A family drama is set against a mystery and some romance. Told through four POVs that show how each character perceives the same events and each other, it also reveals the many layers in the family – worry and stress, love and hurt, regret and frustration, missed opportunities, trauma and secrets, truth and lies, loss and grief, forgiveness and communication, growth and strength – all beautifully written and developed.

The sisters’ relationship is realistic and the conflict relatable. The mother’s battle with stroke and dementia is written with understanding. The continuous ebb and flow of the storyline, and the suspense of long-held secrets slowly revealed add to a positive but sometimes-maddening reading experience.

Inheritance

I do not know why I’ve missed Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal until now, but I’m sure I’ll go on to read her other books.

Set in Singapore over two decades (from the 1970’s to the 1990’s), the story centres around a traditional Punjabi family. Its attempts to cope with the changing political, social and cultural landscapes have consequences. It is a universal story.

The theme of inheritance is not only from a material perspective, but also the mental and emotional aspects of it. (For example: shame and denial of mental conditions, taboos, grief, disappointment, hardship, struggle, sexual identity, belief, freedom, sacrifice, hopes and dreams.) It also shows how tradition and modernity come to loggerheads during the years of nation building.

A vivid and compelling book.

Conviction

Conviction is a 2010 movie that I’ve watched before, but I still enjoyed watching it a second time.

Based on a true story, I like that it shows what a person can achieve with determination and perseverance, and how this person can inspire others to help. (A waitress decides to study to become a lawyer to defend her beloved and innocent brother who was given life imprisonment.)

The story also tells of the dedication, devotion and close relationship between the siblings. They shared a painful childhood due to the neglect of a horrifying mother and are tightly bound to each other. The lead actors’ (Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell) portrayal of their fraternal love is emotional and powerful.