First Impressions

AMERICA'S gun-toting culture, its easy gun laws and even easier accessibility to weapons have been in the news lately. In the hands of an alcoholic psycho, a gun can become a deadly weapon. Joan Bowden is the victim of such a situation. A typical middle class American white woman living in a nerve-wracking relationship with an alcoholic, depressed husband and a small child, Bowden finds herself facing the gun's barrel one day. Because her husband feels that she, Joan, has chosen another man over him, the president of the United States. In a deft hoist, the story then transports itself to the president and his fianc�, who is Joan's sister. Even as the two plan their wedding, Joan is subjected to more abuse and violence, prompting the president to advise her to leave her husband. Joan does so. What flows is a grim orgy of deaths, leaving Joan, her little daughter, her mother and the killer, her husband, dead.

The president takes it upon himself to push through a long needed legislation of gun law reforms. What he does not quite contend is the terrible pressure, the political intrigue, backbiting and desperate lengths that many fellow politicians will go to, to see that the reforms do not see the light of day. In an intriguing, if somewhat lengthy manner, the author cleverly provides vital insight into the workings of the political arena, its lobbyists as well as the judicial system. Through the personal tragedy of a high profile couple, the author draws a stark picture of the high stakes involved in the issue.

Balance of Power, Richard Patterson, Macmillan, �17.99.

First Impressions

THE Asian experience is unique in its themes — from poverty to feminism to cultural values that society has long imposed in these regions. Bringing together a random sampling of these voices is the anthology of SAARC fiction. Titled Voices of Asia, this slim volume packs quite a punch. Short narratives by Khushwant Singh, Ajeet Cour, Bhisham Sahni and Mahasweta Devi reflect on a social scene that changes with its settings. Melded against this are stories from Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. And while each of these picks up a different voice, at times they all tell similar stories — stories of poverty, rejection and hypocrisy.

The two stories from Sri Lanka are presented with a grace and confidence that now seem typical of Lankan writing. The Indian selection has a huge and varied lot. Bhisham Sahni's "Saag Meat" is a gentle but virulent attack on the hypocrisy that affluent middle class India continues to live its life with. "The Wet Nurse" by Mahasweta Devi is a strange paradoxical tale of a woman whose value in the household diminishes, once her role as wet nurse to the children is over — a fate that many Indian woman share once their birthing and child-rearing roles are over. Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi's "A Lament" leaves the reader with a strange feeling of disquiet. This is a poignant story of a young girl given to religious fervour. For those interested in writings from the region, this anthology is a must.

Voices of Asia, chief editor Ajeet Cour, Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature, price not stated.

First Impressions

SARA ALVI is a revolutionary, a poet and a woman in her own right who has never let society dictate terms. But when it comes to her daughter, this seemingly independent mind insists on getting her married to a prominent family in a small town. The idea behind this step is to spare her daughter the tough and trying times of a rebel. But what Alvi does not perhaps realise is that she has in effect left a socially dysfunctional being, quite out of her depths in a small little town where her strange mannerisms, her frequent lapses seem like a major aberrations.

Nasreen's saving grace is her husband , Javed, who is so besotted by his wife and his love for her that he suffers her social antipathy in silence. But Nasreen feels totally uprooted and cannot get away from her childhood and her longing for her childhood friend or her mother. As Nasreen wanders through a meaningless existence, her life takes a dramatic turn when she is the silent witness to a gruesome murder in the local church. Possessed by some courage and a rare decisiveness, Nasreen strikes back. The after-effects are to be expected.

This could have been a dark novel where guilt, longing and desire transgress accepted boundaries. Unfortunately, it seems to fall prey to the undercurrents of a whirlpool where the plot quickly loses track and submerges within itself. The attempt to juxtapose an individual life against current social issues, only serves to confuse the storyline.

My Little Boat, Mariam Karim, Penguin, Rs. 275.


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