First impression

IT could be anyone's story. A childhood tinged with bits of a war-bitten alcoholic father. A mother who carries on stoically visiting the hospital where dad is often in and bearing many babies. But it is one person's moving account of life, of realising who she is, where in the universe life and its reason stand and finally the story of a people who struggled long enough to gain the right to live and live well. Sally Morgan's book has layers of life moulded in with a rich texture that makes the reader turn page after page. No. It is not morose, it is not speculative and most of all it is not judgemental.

My Place is a story about a culture and a time when the author is trying to place her own racial roots and finally unravels a different way of life for her people. Above all, it is the story of hundreds of young Australians who may have been in a similar predicament. It is also the story of a new Australia. Morgan's story unfurls with ruthless detail the lives of aborginals in that country. The "A" word is never mentioned, only implied till the end of book as the mystery of her roots deepens and is finally solved bringing peace to an entire family. It is also the story of a little girl growing up within the love and confines of a family that manages to keep itself intact despite their precarious existence - a story that spans three generations of women. This is a beautifully written book, well deserving of all the praise that has been showered on it.

My Place, Sally Morgan, Indialog, Rs. 295.

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WHAT is it about middle age that drives women to despair? Should a consensus be taken of the forty-plus generation, the answers would be many as well as varied. So when Joan Anderson, successful wife, author and mother of well settled children decides to take the final plunge and move on in life, it comes as a bit of a shock not only for her but also for her husband who is at the same time moving onto a new job in a new place. Joan refuses to accompany him and goes off instead to the family cottage on Cape Cod.

Here she digs in and decides to take life one step at a time. Her new job involves selling fish and life progresses at a slow, even pace without too much excitement or novelty. But for Joan this becomes a trip to self discovery. To finally wake up to all her hidden desires and do what she has wanted to do all these years. The dreams that have been put on the backburner over the married years are slowly put back on the list of priorities while she meticulously examines her emotions, one after another. Her stagnant relationship with her husband - for many women love - is an alibi for dependancy and breaking away from that is never easy. Joan begins to savour her new life, embracing everything that she never had the time to look at. This is a book that many women will identify with. Some will yearn for the impossible after reading it; others may finally spring into action while some may ponder, cocooned as they are in life.

A Year By The Sea, Joan Anderson, Picador, £ 6.99.

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WHEN Ben Ashurst finds himself a guinea pig for a major scientific experiment that takes human emotions to the extreme, he goes through a series of somersaults and finally he is unable to distance reality from the experiment. What begins as a mindless game at first, turns into terrifying reality as Ben is not able to contain his own emotions. At the heart of the experiment is a tiny emotion sensor that can be fitted into the human mind, controlling its emotions. The device is supposed to be tested on Ben and fellow volunteers. Everything goes out of hand and Ben finds himself at the receiving end. He is determined to find out the truth of the experiments, living as he does in mortal fear of his now overheightened state of mind and reasoning. Everything looks like a potential trap. The final betrayal for Ben comes when he is hauled off to the prison in Africa for supposedly possessing drugs. What follows in the prison is an animalistic ritual, short of emotional torture. And just when the world seems to fold in on Ben, his tutor for the project appears on the scene congratulating Ben for the near perfect experiment that they have managed to pull off. A disgusted Ben is forced to realise that all the events had been stage-managed and recorded and every one from the guard at the prison to his fellow conspirators were gags set up to facilitate the experiment.

At one level Mind Games is a fascinating account of how human emotions can be tapped and wired into. The plot seems to loose some of its vibrancy as it carries on in an almost ritualistic mundane fashion, often losing thread of the main argument.

The Mind Game, Hector Macdonald, Michael Joseph, £ 9.99.

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IT is once again thanks to a decent translation that this extremely readable collection of short stories written originally in Oriya have been made available to the English-speaking lot. U.P. Das, retired civil servant, writes with an unusual felicity and leaves you wondering at the audacity of human nature. "Swati" for instance is a short story which leaves you wondering where it will finally swing.

Or the "Empire", a fascinating account of how life bends even the most rigid. Raghupati is a strict and hard taskmaster, feared by all. His subordinates flinch at his name and soon his district acquires the smooth humming of a well-oiled machine. Raghupati's home too has its classifications and everything is in order. Except for a slight law in the programming. That of his sickly daughter. Tired of looking at various doctors for the right treatment, Raghupati has turned to godmen. His subordinate discovers the chink in his armour and skillfully veers a difficult inspection into a spiritual seance. A thoroughly enjoyable collection - modest, down to earth but interesting all the same.

The Pukka Sahib and Other

Stories, U.P. Das, HarperCollins, Rs. 195.