A Matter of Geography
A Matter of Geography by Jasmine D'Costa (Mosaic Press). 

About the book:

A Matter of Geography begins in the early 1990s in the heart of Bombay where young Peter and Anna are neighbours residing with their families. They live in the Billimoria Building, ensconced in the Catholic ghetto. When Hindus destroy a mosque in the distant Indian state of Ayodhya, riots explode in Bombay, the worst the city has witnessed.

Peter and Anna, just 21 and 16 years old, are caught in the explosion while their families take on the task of sheltering a Muslim neighbor. Amidst this turmoil and tragedy, Anna’s family migrates to Canada and she is separated from Peter, just as their love blossoms.

Fifteen years later, Anna returns to India to claim property she has inherited. For an instant, she believes she may have a second chance with Peter, but sectarian violence builds walls between them once again. Anna and Peter are faced with difficult choices as past, present and future frame a powerful portrait of a city, a people in crisis and two conflicted lovers.
 
My thoughts:
 
Rare is the adult who lives in the same world as that of their youth. Take the fallout from Colonialism and mash it up with the disarray and fury of the powerhouses of organized religions – those are the seeds from which our current world bears fruit. 
 
The ever-prevalent power class pays careful homage to societal strata which are still as solidly in place as ever, they’re simply better hidden by a shield of platitudes that subscribes to the banner-bearing cause du jour.
 
And witness the erosion of faith by the betrayal of religious leaders to whom we turned for guidance and structure. All of these, along with family, friendship, tradition, love, history, mathematics and the notion of reality are what makes A Matter of Geography such a fine work. 
 
I was riveted from the start by this book. It pulled me in with its cinematically beautiful writing and warm, rich characters. 
A Handbook for Beautiful People
Beautifully written, the most compelling aspect for me, about this book, is the unflinching realism. You’re ever aware of a sense of inevitable catastrophe, all of which is realized (and then some),  as the dominoes start to fall. 

Twenty-two-year-old Marla is a perfect mix of naiveté, optimism and reckless foolhardy expectations. And yet, when you least expect it, she rallies and shows that world that she’s got some real fight in her, she really might have the seeds of what it takes to be a survivor and go the distance in life, despite the weight of her unchosen (and chosen) burdens. 

The book also explores the complex relationship between the family one is born into and the family who takes you in. I’ve always felt dismayed by the assumptions that birth family trumps that of chosen family and A Handbook for Beautiful People explores this theme from the various points of view.

The character I felt the most empathy for was Marla’s brother, Gavin. Gavin tries the hardest and he crashes to the lowest depths. A Handbook for Beautiful People is not an easy read but it is a worthy, memorable one. This book is not about happy endings, it’s about young lives that start out disadvantaged and spiral further. I would be extremely interested in a sequel. What happens to Liam, Marla, Dani, Gavin and Kamon? One wishes them the very best. 
A Trifecta of Fabulous Reads!
​​In what should be titled Featured Books, I have three lovely, fascinating and entirely different reads to offer you, a trifecta of fabulous writing: The Muslimah who Fell to Earth (personal stories by Canadian Muslim Women) edited by Saima S.Hussain (Mawenzi House), Generation Robot: A Century of Science Fiction, Fact and Speculation by Terri Favro (Skyhorse Publishing) and Rituals of Parsing by Jade Wallace (Anstruther Press).


The Muslimah who Fell to Earth (personal stories by Canadian Muslim Women) edited by Saima S.Hussain (Mawenzi House)
 
What a powerhouse of moving stories. Each story tells of a life, a family, and many families behind that, of homes left behind, homes forged out of nothing.  And too, love, faith, religion and choices.
 
This book is all about choices - the ones we want to make, the others we are forced to.
 
Often, when I take public transport, I look at the women around me and I wonder about their lives. I want to ask them about their stories, I wish they could tell me about their lives. Many of them look as tired as I feel (and as I probably look too!) and I want to say ‘I understand, let’s share a moment, let’s get off this bus and talk about our lives. How did we get here, to this faraway land of long winters and salt-crusted windows and acres of mud?’ But of course I can’t say that! But reading this book was like having a bus pull over and the women all piled out and we sat and had coffee and listened to the tales of each other’s lives.
 
Before I read each story, I went to the bio in order to get a sense of the author, to feel closer to the narrator. And with each, stories of such hardship, such courage, such faith and such joy.
 
I loved what Carmen Taha Jarrah said in Finding God, Finding Me: “Reading is the one thing we can do to grow and to remedy what ails our planet.”
 
One of my favourite stories was Letters to Rumi by Meharoona Ghani. “Dear Rumi, What if you were caught in a hairball?” With hilarious internal narrative and bluntly honest observations, her bio says Meharoona Ghani is working on a book Letters to Rumi which I very look forward to reading.
 
And Azmina Kassam, A Muslim's Womans Perspective, said it best: “writing allows one an intimate lens into the spaces that are intimate and private so that ‘we may realize our common humanity through these words and these stories.’ ”
 
Thank you Mawenzi House for giving me the opportunity to read and review this lovely, relevant, insightful work.
 
-.-
 
Generation Robot: by Terri Favro (Skyhorse Publishing)

Fascinating. Brilliantly written and hilarious, with sharp-as-a-tack insights, observations, past, present and future. 

I haven’t enjoyed a book this much since Trespassing on Einstein's Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything by Amanda Gefter. That book, about which this was said, “In a memoir of family bonding and cutting-edge physics for readers of Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality and Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?, Amanda Gefter tells the story of how she conned her way into a career as a science journalist--and wound up hanging out, talking shop, and butting heads with the world's most brilliant minds”, was voted one of the Best Books of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and, in my opinion, as should Generation Robot.

This is essential (and highly entertaining and thoroughly researched) reading in a time when the fantasies of Black Mirror are more like a dire prognosis of what our future holds and Electric Dreams brings Philip K. Dick’s insanely unreal stories into the realm of the scarily real.
And Favro’s personal spin draws the reader in, we sit at the table having lunch with the family, chatting about robots, workplace safety and the impending nuclear war.

One of Favro’s greatest strengths as a writer (and she has many) is to create such a vivid sense of time and place. Her writing is itself a time machine whisking you back into the past and hurtling you into the future.

Generation Robot also a lovely homage and tribute to Attilio ‘Tee’ Favro, Terri’s father and to the workplace and lifestyle of the 50's.

You’ll learn all kinds of interesting things in this documentation of pop culture through the decades – a lot of which was a trip down memory lane, dating me, no doubt!

And, for those fearful of reading the book in case the prognosis is dire, fear not, we humans hold the cards, the future is ours, and what an interesting future it is!

-.-
 
And last but never least,

Rituals of Parsing by Jade Wallace (Anstruther Press)
 
What an achingly beautiful collection of poems.

If I were to tattoo lines of poetry on my arms, I would make my sections from these poems. How can a person write an entire movie into a poem – soundtrack included? Well, Jade Wallace does just that.

I am reminded of Ryan Gosling and Zack Shield’s Dead Man’s Bones, which was created in collaboration with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir – Wallace’s poems have that same echoey choral hauntedness to them, there are ghosts at every turn, ‘freaky baby ghost feet’ that follow luckless love and the loss it leaves.

I was quite addicted to Dead Man’s Bones, as I am with Rituals of Parsing – each reading reveals greater depths and new visions. With each reading, a new film plays before my eyes. A visual and haunting treat of a read.

-.-
 
And one last note, you might have noticed there are four book covers at the top of the page! Don't worry, I can count, the last is a P.S. re good news, I heard from the author of the mysterious book I purchased on the Danforth, Black to White, Wubit Zewdu! She and I will be meeting for coffee towards the end of April and I look forward to updating you all on her story and the story behind the book!
 
 
    
Things She Could Never Have
About the book:
"Accomplished, sensitive, and often disturbing, these stories take us into the lives of modern Pakistanis—privileged and poor, gay, trans, and straight, men and women, in Karachi and Toronto. “Whisperings of the Devil” takes us into the mind of a mistreated maidservant’s boy who gets seduced into the role of a suicide bomber. In “To Allah We Pray,” two privileged and educated young men, one of them home from Toronto, gallivant through the streets of Karachi, finally walking into a doomed mosque. “Things She Could Never Have” is a love story about two young trans women living in Karachi. “Born on the First of July” opens the door into the home of a Toronto girl who has left to join ISIS and the devastated family she leaves behind. “The First” will astonish many readers by its depiction of sexual encounters of young college girls in Pakistan. These and other stories link us into the complexities of a sometimes troubled and often misrepresented Muslim society.

My Review:
Powerful, rich, evocative and heartbreaking, Things She Could Never Have is filled with memorable stories about religion, gender, marriage, family, country and culture.

In this exquisite collection of short stories, life’s toughest issues are deftly tackled with finesse, sensitivity, compassion and empathy.

Presented from various points of view, the inter-connectedness of some of the pieces satisfies the reader’s desire to know more, to know what happened, and I found myself wishing for more ‘inside information’ with others. 


It was easy to get lost in these stories and feel as if you were right there. I loved this author's writing and I look forward to her next book.

Excerpt: 
"But don't think I am unhappy. There is a roof over my head, food that I cook for myself, and clothes that I stitch so well. There is a pleasure in being alive, spiced with few regrets. Sometimes I wish we had had kids so that I could see you in their faces, listen to you in their speech, realize you in the angles and contours of their bodies and rejoice you through the living of their lives. 

But then, I remind myself, I still have you. I have you here, within me, listening to my stories." – excerpt from Come Listen to Me.

Downward this Dog
Downward this Dog by Sanjay Talreja (Mawenzi House).

This year, I plan to read the works of more diverse Canadian writers and I’d like to thank Mawenzi House for supporting The Minerva Reader in this quest. 

I loved the short stories in this collection. From the very start, you’ll be gripped by the poignant tension and the vivid writing that engages all the senses.

Downward this Dog perfectly describes the immigrant experience, the difficulty in integrating, the rapture of the seasons, the orderly politeness, the quiet Canadian welcome. While far away, war rages with bombs and violence.

And Downward this Dog is also hilarious! I loved the insights, the creeping disillusion, funny despair and self awareness, as well as the insights into the Westernization of yoga. 

Downward this Dog is a beautifully written, insightful testament to the bravery of ordinary life, exploring themes of religion, family, love, marriage, money, success and failure.

"We will make a mix of flavours and dishes, but always with a hyphen. So it will be Italian-Tamil dishes or Punjabi-Spanish; instead of hiding in the kitchens, we'll show our faces to the public." – from The Kick. 

"And then, the journey back in the fading evening light. All of us strangely quiet, hypnotized by the unending expanse of snow-covered fields and the grey wet tarmac of the roads, and the lulling sound of the engine. All of us enveloped in our own thoughts—reminding us that the life we had glimpsed was only a brief moment and our yearning for home would have to lie buried deep within us. Bleak?" – from Downward this Dog.

"For all of those who struggle in the trenches—if experience has taught me anything, it is this: there is no other way." – Acknowledgements. 
    

Bats or Swallows

Bats or Swallows by Teri Vlassopoulos (Invisible Publishing).

Bats or Swallows is a treasure I nearly missed! Published in 2010 by Invisible Publishing, I was truly delighted and enthralled by these stories!

I met Teri at the Tartan Turban Reading series and, after hearing her read her short story, I rushed off and got my hands on a copy of the book. 

With huge apologies to Forest Gump (and those of you out there who are tired of the analogy), there are times when a good book of short stories is like a box of chocolates. And I mean the good kind, like marzipan-filled Belgian chocolate, not that Hershey's-encased strawberry pink gunk which will light up the inside of your eyeballs like a neon sign, from sugar overkill.

No, reading this book was more akin to eating Mozart balls accompanied by a lovely latte on a cold winter's day!

I'm looking forward to doing a lot more reading and posting on The Minerva Reader in 2018. I planned to do a lot of reading over the Christmas holidays but I ended up writing more than I read! Which is fine by me – when the muse knocks on my door, I rush to answer her call!

But I'll have books coming from far and wide across Canada this year, and I hope you'll join me in celebrating them. 

And don't forget to pick up a copy of Bats or Swallows! Each story is a real treat. I look forward to reading Escape Plans by Teri, (Invisible Publishing).