USA

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Political Memoir
Imprint: Crown Publishers, New York
ISBN: 978-0-307-38209-2

Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. He was a Senator at the time of this book’s release. He has penned few other books apart from this.

The Audacity of Hope is about Obama’s hope to make America great again, the same line which is used as slogan in this time’s presidential elections. In this book, he tries to convey all his dreams for a better USA than it is now.

To read this book, you need to be aware of the current scenario as well as history of politics of the USA. Otherwise, you have to hold this book in one hand and use the other hand to constantly search on Google for the historical figures that are named often. Not just historical, even the recent ones. Each chapter starts with a positive note about President Obama’s experience before and after he was elected as the President of the USA. But soon the whole chapter turns into a comparison between Democrats and Republicans, a comparison between Obama and Bush. Irrespective of what the chapter is about, it all boils down to comparison. I agree this is a political memoir, but it is not necessary to compare and make it a Democrat campaign. He could have written more about his experiences than comparing with Republicans.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama is a disappointment. If you pick this book, then be prepared to be bored. It is okay if you are a political buff.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Beat generation, nonfiction, memoir
Imprint: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-0-141-18267-4

On the Road is Jack Kerouac’s novel that tells you about the road trip that Salvatore Paradise takes along with Dean Moriarty across the country of USA. Jack Kerouac belongs to the beat generation, the generation that prized the life of leaving on one’s own terms rather than by society norms. On the Road is the story of the author himself but the names of the characters in the story are changed. Jack Kerouac becomes Salvatore (Sal) Paradise and Neal Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty.

The book is in five parts. The first part sees Sal meeting Dean, not liking him much at first and later missing him and going off on a cross-country hitchhiking trip from New York to Denver to meet the later. Sal is a writer and Dean is a car thief. Sal sees Dean and Carlo Marx, a common friend, get high and talk their hearts out. Dean is in the process of divorcing his first wife Marylou and marrying Camille. Sal leaves Dean and others, and goes to San Francisco to be with his childhood friend, Remi, and his wife, Lee Ann. Lee married Remi thinking he is a wealthy man, but he is a night watchman at a sailors’ camp. He gets Sal a similar job. Both rob things from others to make a better living, but eventually blow things up. On his way back to New York, Sal meets Terry, a Mexican girl who has left her harassing husband and come out with her child. Sal and Terry fall in love and stay together for some time, but he eventually leaves her and comes back to New York. Part two shows what happened a year later. Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel come to pick Sal from his relatives’ place in Virginia, and go off again on a road trip to New Orleans and to San Francisco. Dean has left Camille with his new born daughter and come back to Marylou. Ed Dunkel is a lost soul. On this road trip, Dean comes up with creepy things making Sal uneasy. Once they reach San Francisco, Dean leaves Sal and Marylou stranded without money and food, and goes back to Camille. Disheartened with both Dean and Marylou, Sal leaves them and comes back to New York. Part three sees Sal going in search of Dean again a year after leaving him. Sal misses Dean and the excited life that comes along with the later. By then, Marylou is married to someone else. Seeing Sal with Dean, Camille is assured that the duo will again go away leaving her pregnant with the second child and to look after the first one, and she throws Dean and Sal out of their house. They both decide to go to Italy after reaching New York. On the way, Dean creates havoc and steals many cars for the sake of having fun. Sal and Dean quarrel for the first time. After reaching New York, Dean meets Inez and decides to marry her after he divorces Camille. Fourth part has Sal, Dean and Stan driving to Mexico to start a new life. The usual dope and girl chasing happens. Sal falls sick due to dysentery. Dean leaves him with Stan in that condition because his divorce from Camille came through and he is in a hurry to marry Inez and give her a child. Sal starts to hate Dean. Part five shows Sal falling in love with Laura, and Dean coming into their lives briefly and exiting again.

On the Road is not a story, but is an experience. It is not about bromance but about brotherhood. Sal wants to live an excitement filled life and thinks Dean has and can provide him one. Dean is a car thief who steals cars for fun, but likes to make a living in a decent way. Marylou, Camille and Inez are Dean’s wives. Of all of them, he loved Marylou more and keeps going back to her. Sal knows that Dean is a prick but still loves his company. Since the characters are the real life ones, there is not much of a character development.

This book gives a lot of insight about the beat generation. This generation lived as if there was no tomorrow. Work less, party hard. Dopes, sex, road trips, cars, parties and booze are what made that generation happy. The book is written is simple language using simple narration. It is not quite what I expected, but it did not disappoint me either. The experiences of Sal on the road with four trips are overwhelming and the emotions he goes through are a lesson for life. I might recommend it to the readers who want to read something on the road trips.

In the cover picture of the book, you see Jack Kerouac (Sal Paradise) on the left and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty) on the right.

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Fiction

Erica Bauermeister, the author of The School of Essential Ingredients, has written other novels and they too revolve around the art of cooking. The essence of her writing is that cooking good food and keeping a good relationship are not different from each other.

Lillian owns a restaurant. Every year, she conducts cooking classes and it is with limited number of seats. On the night of first Monday of every month, she closes the restaurant for the customers and opens her kitchen to her students. Lillian teaches her students to how to ditch the recipes and go by their instincts and depend on their senses. Though the classes are once a month, the students become close to each other with each class. The School of Essential Ingredients is all about how cooking changes the lives of Lillian’s students.

At first, we have Lillian herself. She is a motherly character to all the students who attend her cooking classes. Lillian owns a famous restaurant that goes by her name. She doesn’t believe in recipes. She learnt how to cook when her father left her and her mother for another woman, and her mother, threw everything into air and immersed herself into the world of books. Lillian understands that the only way to bring her mother back to being herself is with food. With the help of Abuelita, who runs a spices and other ingredients shop, Lillian prepares delicacies that appeal to her mother’s senses. We have eight students for Lillian’s cooking classes. Claire is a young mother of two and wants to learn different dishes so that she can try them at home for her family. She has a loving, caring and understanding husband in James, who encourages her to take the classes. It is also narrated that James proposed to Claire in Lillian’s restaurant years ago. Carl and Helen make an elderly couple who have passed most of their lives together since they married very young. Carl and Helen love each other more than the recently married young couples. That doesn’t mean they had a smooth sailing marriage. Helen has an affair, but chooses to come clean with Carl and stay with him when she realises that she loves him no matter what. They struggle together until they are able to let go of past and be the same as ever with each other. Other students adore this couple. Antonia is an Italian kitchen designer working in USA. She still is not comfortable with her new location because she is unable to completely understand the fluent English of Americans thought she understands English. She misses her country and food, but is learning to enjoy American culture. Tom is young widower who lost his wife to lung cancer. He chances upon the cooking classes commencement announcement when he goes to Lillian’s restaurant with his friend and signs up for the class because his wife loved to cook and he wants to stay closer to her this way. He is always sad and his sadness is evident to other students and Lillian. Chloe is a girl who has passed out of high school and tries to earn money for college tuitions by getting a job of a busser in an eatery. There she meets Jake, a cook, falls in love with him and moves into his house. She has a tendency to drop things, and as she drops customer orders, she is fired and keeps changing her job. Her boyfriend becomes sarcastic and taunts her every waking minute. Lillian finds Chloe on one of her ever changing jobs and offers the girl a job when she loses yet one more. Chloe wants to learn how to cook so that she can prepare delicacies and win Jake back. She too joins Lillian’s cooking classes and her mentor waives off the fee. Isabelle is an old widow who is forgetful, but laughs at her failing memory. She is there to keep herself indulged in her old age. Ian is a young man who is attending the cooking classes because his mother gifted him the coupon for Lillian’s cooking classes. He believes in preparing himself before starting something new. He prefers to update himself by discarding the old ones and is not attached to anything. He attends the cooking classes and falls head over heels in love with Antonia who is opposite in nature to him. Antonia is aware of his feelings for him, but waits for Ian to muster courage to ask her out. What will Lillian teach her students? Will Claire learn to cook marvellously for her family? Will Carl and Helen stay together even after the cooking classes? Will Ian ask Antonia out and will she agree? Will Tom overcome his sorrow? Will Chloe get back to normal with her boyfriend? To find answers to all these questions, read The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.

The School of Essential Ingredients appeals to not only your mind, but also to your heart and taste buds. Each chapter has a hidden recipe, which is not an actually recipe. You will enjoy reading this tasty novel. You will feel each character speaking to you and knocking on the doors of your emotions while the aroma and taste of what they cook rise to your senses. Whether you are a foodie or not this well-written novel is worth your time. It will not keep you awake all night to finish one more chapter, but it will surely not let you leave it midway.

Twisting My Kaleidoscope by Shannon Love

Twisting My Kaleidoscope by Shannon Love

Review by Shwetha H S

What happens when a loving mother, wife and friend becomes psychotic? What happens to her doting family? How do her friends and extended family deal with this situation? How long do they have to suffer with a lunatic female who doesn’t realize that she is losing her mind?

Shannon Love is an expat residing in Beijing along with her husband Charles and three children. She has many friends in the expat community. They all have been living out of USA for so long that Beijing is their home now. An annual medical check up brings out reports about Shannon’s abnormal heart rates. Though her health is perfect, concerns about her heart don’t fade away. One thing leading to another, Shannon slowly develops a mental condition in which she imagines situations which are not true and listens to voices inside her head. Her husband’s company, unable to risk the health of expats, deports her for a time being to her home town in USA. She gets hospitalized to improve her condition. When things take a turn for betterment, they come back to Beijing. But is she cured completely? Does her psychosis relapse? What does her close circle of people do?

Shannon Love’s memoir is about her life with a psychotic condition and how her family and friends dealt with it. Her intention behind writing Twisting My Kaleidoscope is to let others know what a psychosis patient goes through and what the patient’s family goes through. As she has mentioned in the book, she has altered the events and situations in the narration to keep certain people out of the book due to privacy reasons. Apart from that, it is good book for one time read and is actually entertaining.

Blowing Sandstorm by Horace Crenshaw Jr

Review by Shwetha H S

Blowing Sandstorm is a memoir by Lieutenant Colonel Horace Crenshaw Jr’s about his experiences while commanding an US Army Reserve Petroleum Unit of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Through this book, he narrates his experiences of building a good team out of a dysfunctional unit and leading them overseas.

Author has given details about his background so that readers can understand how he had led his life before and after going on war. From that, one understands his childhood is spent trying to impress his father and in turn impress the society in which he grew up. He wanted to prove that he can live up to his father’s reputation and society’s expectations. This scenario makes one sad about the competitive world, but then, that’s what the author wanted. He seems to have had a confusing phase in his childhood while moving from Alabama to Mississippi. One moment he wonders why they have to move and next moment he is willing to go. He was also easily influenced by others around him and often followed in others footsteps.

Atheists beware! Narration heavily relies on god. There is god in every other sentence. Perhaps “god is everywhere” is what the author believes. So much so that the reader will start wondering whether this is a book about Iraq war experiences or belief in god.

The author also has stated the obvious at many points making it look like it has been done deliberately to stretch. For example, the author writes “Research shows that the teams with the best results are usually those who report a high level of functioning on the six other components of the Rocket Model.” Isn’t it obvious that if a team is functioning at a higher level on so many components of a model, then that team will give out better results? He has explained the Rocket Model for team building in detail. But he has failed to relate it to his work and team in the narration.

It is mentioned often in the book about extra boost which pertains to the faith people close to him have in him and the motivation he gets from that. This shows what these people mean to the author, with them or without them in day-to-day life.

At some places, it feels like the author is more in conversation with himself than with the reader. He has not bothered to explain the acronyms and certain parts as if those have been copied from his military log. He should explain the military terminologies in layman language. Instead of explaining the Rocket Model in detail, he should have explained these technicalities.

It is not like the author has not explained anything in the book. He has explained about facing the sandstorms, working at temperatures enough to cook food, unhygienic conditions and environment waiting to infect people with deadly diseases. However maybe the narration, the author’s intentions as a leader are noble, to make this world better than how it was when he found it.

This book is not yet for everyone. People with military background who can understand the terminologies without explanation or those who are interested in every bit of the detail related to Iraq war can enjoy it. If the author manages to explain better in the next edition of his book, then maybe everybody can enjoy reading it.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Review by Shwetha H S

When I told my friends that I was reading Catch-22, one of them said “I tried reading it once, but left it after reading hardly the first 50 pages. It is full of poor jokes. You might abandon it as well.” What he didn’t know is once I start reading a book I cannot leave it without finishing it. I cannot even take up another book without finishing reading the previous one. And I am proud of that trait of mine, especially now, because I didn’t quit reading Catch-22. Yossarian is a lead bombardier for the United States of America, posted overseas and wants to live. He swears on his one and only life that everybody out there is trying to kill him. On top of that his superiors are raising the number of missions he has to fly if he wants to go home. As soon as he gets the number, he gets notified that the number of mission per person has been raised again. He complains to his friends about this constantly, but flies the missions anyway. Often he finds himself standing up for himself and others demanding to be sent home, but his superiors somehow convince him to fly more.

There are simply too many characters in this novel. You will get confused with who is who and who does what. Though they are too many in number, they all are unique character-wise. Only by the time you finish half of the book, will you be clarified with your doubts. But by then, one by one Yossarian’s friends die or disappear. Though it is Yossarian who is afraid of losing his life more than anybody else, others die before him. Your heart will go out for the Chaplain and you will hate Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn from the bottom of your heart and gut. This novel evidently makes you understand the plight of every person who was overseas fighting not knowing what for accurately. There are many highlights in the story. An argument between Yossarian and Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife about existence of God on Thanksgiving Day, an argument between Nately and an old Italian man about why or why not one should fight for the country and effect of war-destroyed Rome on Yossarian to name a few highlights. Icing on the cake is the last chapter. Everything happens at once that you wish to be there with Yossarian, Major Danby and the Chaplain. This novel on the whole is truly one of the greatest novels of the century.

Every victim was a culprit, every culprit a victim, and somebody had to stand up sometime to try to break the lousy chain of inherited habit that was imperiling them all.

Joseph Heller, hats off to you.