Review : The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to shop my book shelves . I was hoping to get to some of the classics on my shelves during the lockdown . But they only seem to intimidate me more nowadays . On normal days , I would have skipped past them without much thought and would have proceeded to place an order with Amazon or atleast initiated the borrowing process with the library . Now , I am rummaging through the same stacks trying to find something less intimidating , cursing myself for not having the foresight to have a stash of suspense fiction which is my go-to genre any time . Despite all the relaxations in Lockdown 5 . 0 , I am finding that Amazon is not delivering any “non – essentials ” in my area and going to the bookstore does not seem to be a good idea .

The current read was sitting on the shelves from God knows when . It is when I was skimming over Chapter – 1 , that I read these lines :

At the beginning , people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world . Counselors came to talk to us at school . I remember watching Mr.Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water , as if preparing , it now seems to me , for a disaster much more minor .

The grocery stores were soon empty , the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones

These days as standing in street corners may not be very practical , we are having several YouTube videos about The Last Days which are making rounds in the Whatsapp groups . I don ‘ t have to comment on the stock piling or the panic shopping – we witnessed it during the lockdown and it will probably continue for some more time . These lines no longer read like a dystopian world which I could not relate to . This perfectly captured the ” new normal ” . . . And that ‘ s why the reason for picking up this inimitable debut by Karen Thompson Walker . . .

** Review starts here for people who don ‘ t have time for my rants and my book buying woes **

One Saturday morning , the narrator Julia and her family , along with the entire world wake up to find that a phenomenon termed as the ” slowing ” had occurred . With time , the real impact of the slowing finally becomes evident – the days and the nights continue to grow longer , accumulating extra seconds , minutes and eventually hours with each passing day ; the trees and plants are dying away quickly and artificial lawns are the only option for people to have some greenery around them ; the gravity is affected ; the sleep patterns are affected ; animals are the first to take the hit in this chaotic ecosystem – flocks of birds are dropping dead from the sky , the whales are beaching themselves and eventually dying across the world . A eleven year old must navigate this terrifying new world while dealing with the tension in her parents ‘ marriage , dealing with breakup with old friends and forming new friendships , discovering what teenage might bring with it from the experiences of those around her and finally having her brush with something close to a heart break . . .

My thoughts about the book

What I loved about this book was that Karen has packed a lot into the narrative while exploring the catastrophic effects of the slowing down of the rotation of the earth in Julia ‘ s world – the avian deaths and change in avian behavior , how people devised new routines to cope up with the 24+ hours days , how people differed in their views regarding the shift and how there came to be two coping mechanisms , the vanishing of green acres at an alarming rate , how the almanacs became useless with each passing day because eclipses surprised people by not occurring at the pre – calculated times , the sharp spike in the sales of sleeping pills , blackout curtains , sleep masks and several other stuff which became the new age ” essentials ” and even alcohol and cigarettes . . .

This is not just a chronicling of a few lives and a few loves during this strange phenomenon but also the new and unusual experiences in the coming of age story of a young girl growing up in highly uncertain time . The idea of having Julia as a pre – teen during the start of the ” slowing ” and to have an older Julia reminisce about her growing up experiences during the start of the slowing down offers the benefit of the keen memories of a young person who can have organized thought process and also discern things put beautifully into words along with her own insightful ideas by the adult Julia . . . There is only one ambiguity which I could point out in the narrative . It is about Julia ‘ s age ( although I am not sure if I might have missed something here –

I was twenty three when plans for the Explorer were announced [ . . . ]

I do try to move forward as much as possible . I ‘ ve decided to try to become a doctor , though some of the Universities . No one knows what the world will be like by the time I finish school .

If she is 23 + ( inferring from the first statement ) , then she says in the second that no one knows what the future will look like by the time she finishes school . . . It would be great if someone could clarify this . . .

Julia ‘ s narration liberally peppered with her insightful musings on the past is a treat to read and encourages the reader also to think about certain issues she covers in the course of the narrative . Her anecdotes about everyday family life and how things slowly changed until the normal routine was no longer recognized as normal and how everyday things ( like the well -maintained lawns or eating pineapples or even bananas ) disappeared or became a memory from a time which was only a myth now are all very relatable to the current situation we find ourselves in and reinforces one learning from this time strongly – not to take the little things in life for granted . . .

Karen ‘ s take on the effects of the fictional accelerated slowing of Earth ‘ s rotation are very believable and terrifying . While reading about the catastrophic effects on Earth and its inhabitants , I could not help seeing the similarities between some of the effects detailed in the book (although thankfully not as grim as it turned out in the book and sometimes even having a positive environmental impact ) to the ” new normal routine ” in the wake of the COVID – 19 pandemic – the spike in the sales of hand sanitizers , cleaning products , vitamin pills ( especially Vitamin D now that we are wary of stepping outside our homes ) , immunity boosters , the face masks ( which have found a place in the new list of essentials ) , the wildlife taking a stroll through the roads in towns and villages not that we are all cooped up in our homes , the headlines shouting that the air pollution has dipped by a huge margin and how the air quality has improved a lot . . .

An interesting excerpt from the book –

” By the end of November , our days had stretched to forty hours

Those were the days of extremes . The sun blazed longer each time it came around , baking our street until it was too hot to cross barefoot . Earthworms sizzled on patios . Daisies wilted in their beds .

The periods of darkness , when they came , were just as sluggish as the daylight . The air turned cold during twenty hours of night , like the water at the bottom of a lake . All over California , grapes froze on the vine , orange groves withered in the dark , the flesh of avocados turned black from the frosts .

Dozens of experimental biospheres were commissioned for the cultivation of essential crops and the seeds of a thousand fragile species were rushed to a seed bank in Norway .

There are several such beautiful passages which must be read as part of the story and not as standalone quotes . This one is highly recommended from me . . .

Rating : 4 . 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , let me know in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . . . Until the next review then . .

Book review : 10 Minutes 38 seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

download (3)I had guessed it right that this book would make it to the Booker Prize shortlist . The premise of  a life – story told through the final string of memories that the clinically dead person has , before the brain shuts down , was fascinating . During the final moments , when the brain tries think in its oxygen – deprived state , obviously it is going to throw up the memories / impressions which it had formed strongly . . .

The book is divided into three sections – Mind , Body and Soul .

Mind

As it can be easily guessed , the Mind section tells the story of Tequila Leila , through her swansong – memories . Somehow , the mind seems to ” remember ” every object of her memory by its smell and taste  – curious , isn ‘ t it ? With every ticking minute , Leila ‘ s brain throws up another deep – seated memory – the taste of spiced goat stew , the goat sacrificed by her father to celebrate the birth of her brother ; the taste of the home – made lemon & sugar waxing mixture used by the women in the neighborhood to wax their legs ; the taste of cardamom tea shared with a handsome University student whom she fell in love  with , when he takes shelter in the brothel where she works ; the smell and taste of watermelon and the memories of a summer vacation with family . . .

Every memory gives us a glimpse into a key event in Leila ‘ s life and the friend she made because of that incident . . .

Leila & her friends – their story 

Leyla Afife ( full of virtue )  Kamile ( high in merit ) , the daughter of a tailor in the city of Van , rechristened herself as Tequila Leila ,  following her elopement from her home and subsequent entanglement with prostitution in Istanbul . Yes , her middle and last names seem to make a mockery of her . . .

She has five close friends in the city of Istanbul – Nostalgia Nalan , Sabotage Sinan ( the only man in this girl gang ) , Jameelah , Hollywood Humeyra and Zaynab122 . Each has his / her own story on how they ended up where they are today and how he / she became friends with Leila . Their stories are as fascinating as Leila ‘ s . Like her , they are from the fringes of the society and Istanbul ,  the  bustling Turkish capital would not miss them if one of them turns up dead one day . . . Like Leila , they too , might become news on national television if they were also murdered gruesomely ; the newspapers might carry reports about their deaths , but they will first seek to reassure the ” normal female citizens ” that there is no threat for them . They had known all of this but until Leila ‘ s death they had not been slapped on the face with it . . .

The author uses several significant events of Leila ‘ s short life as pointers to the patriarchal society ‘ s aspects  . Some of them below :

  • how her mother ‘ s frequent miscarriages ( a few even nearly fatal ) except for Leila ‘ s birth  did not deter her father to keep trying for a son . . .  And how her mother relies on the birth of the child ( preferably a boy ) to cement her place in the family  , her being the second wife of  Leila ‘ s father  .
  • how right – wing ideologies slowly infiltrate ordinary families when the men of the family , like Leila ‘ s father ,  are brainwashed by right-wing ” spiritual leaders ” into restricting the women folk  and the children of the house  in order to  ” put an end to this man – made regime and bring back God – made sharia ” .  So , meetings with any of the progressive neighbors , ” alla franga “ magazines ,  newspapers , TV – watching  – almost every single aspect that had provided the ladies some news about the world outside their doorstep had to  be banned . . .
  • how the ” reputation ” of the girl was more important than addressing the abuse the girl had suffered . . . Everything else should be swept under the carpet . . .
  • how her being a prostitute , seemed to imply that there is no need for sympathy in the way she met her end ;  how , even the youngsters , had been taught to view her as a ” fallen ” woman who had no  claim to their  pity / sympathy but only deserved all the  scorn and revulsion one could muster .
  • how Leila had to deal with every random ” righteous ” man ‘ s ire as she is seen as a blot on the society . . . Finally , she had to die in the hands of one such man who had taken it upon himself ” to turn whores into angels ” .

There is  no forced inclusion of plot elements to illustrate these themes  – the story rolls seamlessly .  The author has tried out some new analogies which are interesting .

What is the story of Tequila Leila , the prostitute whose body was found in a dustbin in Istanbul ? What are the friends ‘ stories and the stories behind some of the nicknames ? 

Body 

Now , having been forced to face the society ‘ s apathy and worse still ,  the judgmental opinions , they decide to give their friend a decent funeral . Normally , people like Leila ‘ s and her friends will be put up in the Cemetery of the Companionless when they died . The fact that Leila had friends who were ready to give her a proper funeral did not matter to the state – when a body is unclaimed or refused by the family , the person is buried in the ” Cemetery of the Companionless ” in Kilyos , no more questions asked . . .

So , the five friends make a rash decision to dig out Leila from her grave in the cemetery at night . . . They go about muddling in the Scooby – Doo gang style . . . [ perhaps this parallel is due to Scooby Doo  being in the news very often , these last few days . . . ]

What happened to their mission ? Was it successful or not ? 

Soul

Finally , Leila ‘ s soul gets free and makes an acquaintance she had long wanted to . . . Who is it ??

Summing it all up –

To sum it up , the writing & the story has the reader turning the pages fast . . . With the life story of a prostitute , the writer has had the space to pack several segments which mirror the society ‘ s attitude to the people on the fringes and it ‘ s misogynistic tendencies and she has done a commendable job . . .

In the backdrop of the characters ‘ lives , history is always in the making – the construction of the Bosphorous bridge , the massacre in Istanbul on International Workers ‘ Day ( 1997 ) . . . Sometimes , characters are present in the moment when events , which had made to the history books since then , were being enacted – often without them realizing it . Of course , we all are or will be . . .

Perhaps , the midnight grave digging and all that drama , brought this book down  to sit with all other populist contemporary fiction in the bookshelves . . . With only the first section , it would have been in a league of its own . . .

Still , I hope the questions might have sufficiently intrigued you  to add this book to your TBR . Yes , I would recommend this book . . . I only wish that Elif had known when to stop writing . . .

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

Until the next review then . . .

Aadai : Movie review

Movie name : Aadai Director: Rathna Kumar Starring : Amala Paul , Ramya Subramanina, Sriranjini, Vivek Prasanna In a society where a wardrobe malfunction or a slightly too revealing dress of a celebrity makes it to the headlines in the gossip supplementary, the protagonist finds herself stark naked in the abandoned building which used to […]