The Runaway Wife

The Runaway Wife by Rowan Coleman is another random find that turns out to be a satisfying read.

The protagonist is Rose, who is vulnerable and fragile but whose inner strength becomes more and more apparent as the story progresses.

The story is engaging and moving; many serious topics are sensitively weaved into a heartwarming tale – an abusive marriage (both emotional and physical), an estranged relationship between a father and his daughter, an unhealthy relationship, a family lost, time lost, friendships, heartaches, betrayal, forgiveness, second chances, new beginnings, self-discovery, and even concepts like autism.

I will definitely look out for more of Coleman’s novels. I hope they are just as wonderful.

Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-day Child Slave

Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-day Child Slave by Shyima Hall (with co-writer Lisa Wysocky) is different from many other memoirs on human trafficking (for example sex slavery and forced marriage).

A very young (8yo) girl was sold into slavery by her parents in Egypt. The story is horrific but true. She was forced to work extremely long hours, was abused emotionally, verbally and physically, was denied medical help, and kept out of sight until her eventual rescue in America.

Despite the terrible experience, Shyima persevered and survived. She is now an advocate against trafficking and slavery. It takes courage and willingness to share her experience.

The book is rather straightforward but emotionally gripping. The language and style is perhaps more appropriate for adolescent readers but the message is a powerful one. (I found this book in the Adult Lending section of the library.)

The Bridegroom

The Bridegroom is the first book by Ha Jin that I’ve read. It is a collection of twelve short stories revolved around Chinese culture and Chinese society: conflict of family, problems in love and relationship, bureaucracy, difficulties faced by the Chinese in their jobs, with their co-workers and the police, and other taboo subjects.

The title story is about a model husband who is arrested for the “bourgeois crime” of homosexuality.

Alive is about an official who loses his memory in an earthquake and lives happily for months as a simple worker.

A Tiger Fighter is Hard to Find is about how the lead actor in a film ends up in a mental hospital.

After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town is about the cultural clashes (between Americans, Japanese and the Chinese) that lead to the Chinese staff being fired. The angry laid off workers plot a sabotage at the end.

Flame is about a rejected suitor who returns many years later to humiliate his former love interest.

Women from New York and Broken tell of how young females are thwarted, shunned and punished.

My favourite story is Saboteur. The protagonist is arrested and ill treated for no reason. He takes revenge by unleashing a hepatitis epidemic in the country when he eats at several food stalls upon his release.

I will read a full length novel by Ha Jin in the near future.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters

The Unusual Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal is the second book by this author that I’ve read. I’ve not been able to get hold of her other books; I guess it’s because many book clubs will be discussing her books next month.

It is about three British-born Punjabi sisters embarking on a pilgrimage to India to fulfill their mother’s final request. The three of them were never close and barely got along growing up and are now grown even further apart, with different perspectives and life choices. On this journey, they make unexpected discoveries about themselves, their mother and their lives. Their mother’s last wish has brought them together and given them the opportunity to put their past regrets and issues to rest.

In learning about each other’s secrets, the sisters also discover much about bonding as a family, love, acceptance, forgiveness, self-discovery, culture, traditions and even issues like abortion and rape, sexism and abuse.

Reading the vivid descriptions (for example how India is so beautiful yet also full of dangers) and the realistic situations make me wish someone (in Hollywood?) would adapt this into a screenplay. I’m sure the vibrancy (of colours and sounds) and drama would make it a treat for the senses.

House Broken

I was attracted to House Broken by Sonja Yoerg not because of the cover (though I did wonder why it’s a dog especially since I’ve had a bad encounter with one which put me off them for life) but because it says that it is “a powerful tale of the ways in which families hurt and heal…”. I immediately thought the title is a play on the words ‘housebroken’ (a single word referring to a trained pet) and ‘house broken’ (where there’s damage and hurt in a family, possibly beyond repair). I was eager to find out more.

The story is compelling enough that I finished it within a day. It is a family drama of many complexities such as secrets, struggles, incest, alcohol abuse, self-destructive behaviour, denial, desire, irony, blame, relationships, hopes and redemption. The dogs are mostly in the background (hence the cover, I think), with comparisons and analogies to the human characters and their roles in the plot.

A good read.

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.