Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mr. Toppit

Flower my media savy friend do I have a book for you!

Wow! I have such a crush on this book. I heart Mr. Toppit and I want everyone else to as well.

Picture if you will my friend the lives of A.A. Milne and J.K. Rowling and the immense success of their immortal creations all mixed together with just a touch of Hamlet. You get a funny and dark casserole of cleverness, Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton. I remember reading that after having his childhood mined by his Father, the grown up Christopher Robin Milne said that, "My Father got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders." That quote popped into my head more than once while reading this novel. It is humorous, distressing and sums up the heart of the Hayman family story.

Mr Toppit is the mysterious, menacing creation of Arthur Hayman. Hayman is the author of a series of children's books, The Hayseed Chronicles. The Chronicles were fated to stay tucked away in obscurity and jumble sales until Arthur is killed in a traffic accident. After meeting a cement truck his final few minutes are spent with passing American tourist Laurie Chow. Chow is the embodiment of American access. She is obese, constantly "on" and overly connected. Laurie is the catalyst with her own agenda that brings the beyond-your-wildest-expectations monetary prosperity to the Hayman family via her pushing the books. The Hayseed Chronicles become a global, money spewing, obsessive fan creating juggernaut. Meanwhile Arthur's widow and children struggle with the fame and rewards: Mrs Hayman's alcoholism, son Luke's loathing of his thinly disguised self as the book's hero and daughter Rebecca's anguish at her exclusion from the books. Then there are also the agents, the movie moguls, the media specialists, the product tie marketers, the fans, the fans and the fans.

~~sigh~~ I'm getting all misty eyed remembering how much I flipped over this novel. I ate it up. In Mr. Toppit Charles Elton has completely captured the frenzy that can accompany unbridled success. There is a wealth of story in Mr. Toppit to satisfy and enthrall. This novel is a comic heartbreaker. Read it and relish it.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saraswati Park And Ride Along

Hello Flower.

One of the many ways that my I-Am-A-Lucky-Girl status is verified is by the boxes of books that friend S sends me from London. S writes for the cultural section of a large U.K. daily and therefore gets many, many free books sent his way. He is a generous, postage paying, book pushing pal and I am the grateful recipient of his largesse. A side dish perk of S's gifts is that many times I get books that either are not yet published over here and/or never going to be published here.

One of the recent books I received from S is Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph. This novel was released in July by HarperCollins U.K. Right out of the box I was attracted to Saraswati Park. I liked the cover and the description of the book from the publisher had me ready to read.

Saraswati is about a middle class family in Bombay. Husband Mohan is a professional letter writer. This is not a growth field. He gets some work putting pen to paper for divided lovers and families and the occasional check but he spends more and more of his time pursuing his real passion. He buy old novels from the secondhand stalls and scrawls away in the margins. His dream is step out of the margins and be a novelist. Mohan's wife, Lakshmi, is in crisis. She is in mourning for the death of her only brother and maybe for her marriage as well. The couple takes in their nephew Ashish. Ashish is troubled by his sexuality, unhappy romances and having to repeat his final year of college.

This is a kitchen sink kind of novel. The dramas and the humorous moments are small, intimate and happening to ordinary people. Most of the Indian novels I have read have been big multi-generational affairs with a cast of thousands ranging all over India's history. What a welcome change Saraswati Park is to my usual Indian diet. Joseph carefully introduces us to everyday quiet. The lives she examines are not eccentric, not flashy, not starting a dynasty or representing the history or future of a nation. These people are trying to find their way and with Anjali Jospeh's skills their journey is an exulting experience.

Is Sarawati Park going to be published in the U.S.? I haven't seen any indication of that, but maybe that will change. Here's hoping this fine book will be available here soon. It surely helps that the Telegraph selcted Joseph as one of their 20 best writers under 40 on the basis of this her first novel. Impressive, right?


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hark! The New Matthew Shardlake Mystery, Heartstone Is Here!


Okay. You loved Wolf Hall. You are longing for Hilary Mantel to finish her next book about Thomas Cromwell. When will that be? I do not know my friend but not as soon as you want it to be finished for sure. Need something to tide you over? Something smart to keep your thanks to our girl Hilary appetite for 1500's English politics in check? Well then I am coming to your rescue. There is a superb mystery series available to satisfy your Henry the VIII and Co. needs, the Matthew Shardlake mysteries by C.J. Sansom.

England in the 1530's is a tough place. The next new plague is just around the corner, Henry the VIII is constantly trolling for a new wives and The Reformation is creating a new Christianity and new criminals every day. In the first Shardlake novel, Dissolution, one of these criminals has seemingly committed several murders in a monastery. The deaths themselves are bad enough but given the times they might lead to the immediate closing of the monastery itself. Henry has been confiscating property owned by the Catholic Church for his own enrichment and to award to loyal courtiers. Sent by Henry's henchman, Thomas Cromwell, lawyer Matthew Shardlake finds himself hunting for a murderer and his own ideals.

The Shardlake mysteries are outstanding. The blending of historical fact with well written fiction and compelling, page turning mystery is a formidable accomplishment. Each one of the books takes you further into the social and political turmoil of the period. Shardlake is a detective in the classic mode. He is intelligent, street smart, compassionate, morally upright and has a sidekick but every detective has a foible or quirk that sets them apart from general society in some way. With Shardlake it's that he is a hunchback. Remember this is 500 years ago so he is a freak, someone who should not have survived infancy, someone who as an adult with such a noticeable deformity would have been shunned. Luck, determination and brains have brought him into a position of respect and power but his appearance will guarantee his isolation and makes him a target for any ambitious citizen.

Sansom's latest book is Heartstone. It is now 1545. Henry has invaded France and he is now on wife #6, Catherine Parr. It is at Parr's request that Shardlake turns from his usual work to investigate the suicide of the son of a former lady-in-waiting. This case will take Shardlake through the legal system surrounding wards of the court. That was an institution that was a primary source of income for the royal family. There is never just one story in a Shardlake mystery and Heartstone is no exception. Most authors would divvy up the amount of juicy characters, finely woven plot and impeccable research you find in Heartstone into three separate books.

There are five novels in this series: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and now Heartstone. The first four titles are available (from your local independent bookstore of course) in paperback. Heartstone is due out in hardcover September 28th. All five mysteries are memorably entertaining and comprise one of the best history classes you could ever take.

Happy to be Henry-ized once again

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's About To Be Fabulous Out There!

Sorry Flower!

I know that for you Autumn is the harbinger of more bad news, Winter. For me Autumn is a favorite. Probably my real and true favorite season. I do like a nip in the air and in a glass so we're good there and that color change...magical. All the leaves are dying but truly going out in a blaze of glory. As gorgeous as Spring can be and as beautiful as Winter sometimes is in a Dr. Zhivago kind of way I find Fall breath taking.

According to my local radio station although Fall starts today we are really only having one hour of it today. Tomorrow is the first full day of the season. You have a tiny bit of a reprieve my friend. Here we have had chilly weather for a week and I have seen leaves changing for a couple weeks so in my head it's already been Fall.

Happy. Happy. Happy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Hamilton Case

Flower my lovely friend,

Sometimes my normally optimistic self knows for sure that a book that I worship has gone out of print. I read The Hamilton Case by Michele de Kretser when it was first released in 2004 and it has remained a favorite ever since. It's a book that I save to give to people who appreciate a truly marvelous, psychologically intricate novel. There are tons of books to gift or recommend but this is one of the special ones for me. It's very important to me that whomever I give it to is going to love it as much as I did. My guess is that I use it to gauge how much I may have in common with someone. That's a lot of pressure to put on one little book. I haven't had anyone to pass it on to in a while but when that recently changed I was worried that after six years the book would no longer be available. Happily that is not the case. I can rest easy once again and continue to test the potential for near and dear in people.

The Hamilton case is a murder in Sri Lanka in 1902 when it was still known as Ceylon. Born into a wealthy Celonese family and educated at Oxford, Sam Obeyskere is a home grown product of the British Empire. He returns home to practice law and finds that he is too British to be native and too native to be British. When he is asked to comment on a sensational local murder his arrogant belief in his own importance and his rash response that an Englishman is responsible for the killing will dog him the rest of his life. His future though still considerable will now be ruled by should have beens and whispers.

The life surrounding Sam: his family, his own shocking behavior, the British, the jungle, tea plantations, the social pettiness of the haves and the crippling poverty of the have nots are all conveyed with remarkable skill in this novel. Reminiscent in turn of the colonial life of The Jewel In The Crown (The Raj Quartet Vol 1) and the delusions of The Remains of the Day, The Hamilton Case is a masterful evocation of entangled lives and unfulfilled dreams.


Skippy Dies

Hello Flower.

It's not a good day for Daniel "Skippy" Juster. He's got a rival in love in the school psychotic, he's sensitive, doesn't have too many friends, he's stuck in Dublin in an all-boys Catholic prep school obsessed with branding itself and this afternoon he's going to choke to death on a doughnut. Now onto page 2. The next 655 pages* have Ruprecht Van Doren, the chubby genius and Skippy's best friend and roommate solving what Ruprecht thinks is Skippy's murder while maintaing his determination to open a portal into a parallel universe using ten-dimensional string theory.

Do not groan and/or turn away! It is another crime solving kid and this novel is all about 14 year old boys but it is not a YA novel I swear. If it means anything to you Skippy was on this years Man Booker longlist.

Skippy Dies is a radiant look at life as a 14 boy year old surrounded by 14 year old boys (I have 5 brothers so I feel entitled to insert a gigantic, released from the soul "ICK" right here.) and while that isn't pretty Paul Murray's mighty talent makes it so very funny, painful, tender and smart. This is a novel that will make you laugh but just below that is a powerful picture of children's ever changing relationships with themselves, each other and the adults that populate their world. From Skippy's death scene through the end of the book every moment you share with Skippy, Ruprecht and Co. is delightfully satisfying.

Delightful teenage boys? Trust me that is no oxymoron.

If you cannot bring yourself to let loose on Skippy Dies and despite my adoring the novel I can understand why a book about adolescent boys might not being alluring, then read Murray's matchless novel An Evening of Long Good-byes instead. It is wonderful. You'll laugh, you'll cry--- from laughing more--- and you'll wish it doesn't end. Charles Hythloday's sad realization that he must work when all he wants is to be a retired country gentlemen is a comic joy. Really. This is being told to you by someone with a high threshold of humor when it comes to books.


P.S. I am curious about why the publisher of Faber and Faber decided to published Skippy simultaneously as a hardcover and a boxed, 3 volume set of paperbacks. I wonder which is selling better?

*Not to worry about the length of the book if the page count concerns you. The hardcover is a smaller trim size than the standard adult hardcover and the margins are big. If books followed the rules of dog years then this hardcover would really only be about 350 pages.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Our Tragic Universe


Ah! Cover magic works again. This cover was too delicious to pass up. I had to look. Yahoo! It's a new book by Scarlett Thomas, Our Tragic Universe. Isn't it great to come across a book by an author you like that you didn't know about? Oh happy day. I have already read The End of Mr. Y and loved it. That one is a fascinating novel about an unread book, science, death, time travel and brilliant writing. It's also another A+ cover. Before that there was the brilliant PopCo where Alice must solve the riddle of the anonymous notes with her codebreaking skills and at the same time stop the power hungry corporation and find her missing father.
Writer Meg Carpenter's Tragic Universe is stuck in a boring relationship, wildly attracted to a 65 year old professor, broke, her career is a hand to mouth mish-mash of teaching writing, freelance work, ghostwriting and Ya thrillers written under a pen name. She does have a Serious Literary Novel in the works but it is way past deadline and keeps expanding and then shrinking back to the same 43 words on a regular basis. Her friends lives are on a similar level of dysfunction. When Meg is offered a job reviewing The Science of Living Forever she is eager to take the assignment. A girl's got to make a living right? It turns out that The Science of Living Forever wasn't sent to her by an editor to review but instead by some maybe mystical force that might now be bringing a level of coincidence into her life that is bordering on the magical.

That's it for the usual will Annie end up happy and save the farm storytelling stuff in Our Tragic Universe. Then? Nothing but questions. Big nature of things and what is fictions kinds of questions. Now the page turning begins. An idea novel that is a page turner? Nontraditional storytelling that I ate up? Seriously? Oh yes my friend and there's knitting too! This is unconventional fiction that is funny and energetic. It's got all the big elements of book boredom for me: science, philosophy and intellectual ruminations. With Scarlett Thomas behind them I can cheer. I was fascinated. The more novels she writes the smarter and more entertained I become.

Our Tragic Universe made me sad. I'll never be able to read it again for the first time. ~Sob~


P.S. When I went to Houghton's web site to get the link to Tragic I saw that they had a book trailer for the book. I watched it. It was the first time I ever watched a book trailer. Are they all like this because that was a long 2 minutes and 17 seconds let me tell you. It consisted of shots of the book being set down in public places for people to find and read with some tinny background song playing. OK. There is an intense level of delight in getting a free book but the old lady librarian in me doesn't want to find books lying around outside and the Lysol loving cootie killer in me doesn't want to pick something up outside that has been who knows where and for how long. The bookseller in me laughs out loud that people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fenton Mud think that this book drop was a Marketing Plan. Can't you just picture the meeting that led to this plan being given the green-light? I wish I could convince myself that some intern can up with this brilliant idea and not a marketing professional. In the catalog where Our Tragic Universe was originally listed there is a heading for advertising. This plan allowed them to check off that box. Good job guys. I'm sure this Marketing Plan led to some good numbers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Wet Nurse


"Mammy how I love, how I love you my dear old mammy." Sorry I could not stop humming that while I was reading The Wet Nurse. Not since Jayne Mansfield have breasts done so much for a career.

I did pick this book up on purpose. Am I expecting? No. Am I contemplating a career change? Yes, but nothing in the diary field. I had made a note of The Wet Nurse when the hardcover came out that I wanted to take a look when the paperback was released. It was, I did and I purchased. Why? Historical interest. It certainly was not this dreadful cover that tempted me. Take a look at that. It makes those God-awful covers on the Barnes and Noble Classics look attractive.

After a lifetime's worth of reading historical fiction and 19th century writers like Dickens, Trollope, Collins, Oliphant, Gaskell, etc I knew what a wet nurse was but that was all I knew. The wet nurse is an unexamined staple of period novels. Typically even the second upstairs parlor maid will have more character development and plot importance than the wet nurse. Sue me I was curious. My attitude is the give away that I did not expect to...well, respect this novel. I assumed from the cover, the subject matter and the prosaic title that I would get a few facts on milk production as a livelihood, average writing and maybe some entertainment. Why? What was it about a novel whose main character lactates for a living that made me prejudge ? Am I a snob?

Am I just the tiniest bit disappointed that I enjoyed The Wet Nurse from end to end? Absolutely not. My snottiness was defeated. Author Erica Eisdorfer has done a very good job. Her main character, Susan Rose, is an illiterate country girl forced to go to London to hunt down her missing son. She is able to get a position in a household and is soon given the opportunity to better her salary by becoming the wet nurse. Susan is what Dickens would have described as a 'jolly' girl. My Mom would have said that she was no better than she should have been. She is good hearted, lusty and true but not above scheming and larceny to get ahead and recover her son. You know that if Susan is going to earn herself a happy ending she will have more than her share of adventures, heartache, horrifying employers and brutality to endure. Susan is the strength of this book, not the plot.

At the end of each chapter is a somewhat abrupt interruption of the story while Susan's clients explain why she was needed in each job. These were my favorite parts of the novel. As informative as these sections were they also help the novel. They add a little balance to the story by bringing in a touch of Upstairs Downstairs to the book and with each explanation Eisdorfer brought a subtle reminder to us about how difficult surviving Victorian England was for adults and children. They also served to reinforce our view of Susan's independence and resilience.

The Wet Nurse defied my snobby this-will-be-all-cheese expectations and lived up to my desire for knowledge.


Monday, September 13, 2010



For the most part I am a live and let live reader. If you can barely wait the 20 minutes it takes for the next James Patterson to appear that's okay with me. Got that Dave Eggers monkey on your back? I'll give you a ride home anyway. Don't think that Rose Tremain is a Great Writer? Our friendship must end. That's all there is to it. If you haven't read her we can still be pals but don't think that I am ever going to stop trying to make you read her. (Believe it when I tell you I am the Michael Phelps of nagging.) When you do read her---and yes there will be a when not an if---you will see the power that is Rose Tremain. If you don't....then find a new friend or fake it.

Tremain's new novel is Trespass. Set in the Cevennes region of France, Trespass is about grotesque family relationships, collusion, shame, deception, land disputes, revenge with a capital R and a nasty discovery on the river bank. Successful garden designer Veronica Verey and her less successful painter partner Kitty are among the many Brits who have made this area their second home. Veronica's brother Anthony is a rich, disillusioned, 60-ish retired antiques dealer who moves in with Veronica and Kitty while he hunts for a suitable home/showcase in the area for his beloved antiques. His interest in possibly purchasing a dilapidated farmhouse is the catalyst for the events of the novel. It was the childhood home of siblings Aramon and Audrun. Aramon is an addict letting alcohol lay waste to his life. Audrun is surrounded by cocoon of bitterness and destruction.

The novel is organized by chapters that each end with a revelation and begin with renewed suspense. It's a very literary take on the Victorian serial. All these revelations fall out of the story with the same sort of logic as a sweater unraveling. Each pull leads to another in an unstoppable line. Each one adding just a little more weight, a little more unhappiness, a little more ugliness until the fabric is gone and all is revealed.

The physical and mental landscape of Trespass is well populated. Tremain excels at creating fully realized worlds. Among her best are: seventeenth century England in Restoration and the Danish court in Music and Silence, the New Zealand gold rush of the mid 19th century in The Color and contemporary immigrant life on England in The Road Home. In Trespass her dazzling skills take you in seconds from this France of British holiday homes and eccentrically quaint locals to grasping interlopers and home grown subversives. It's like going from Peter Mayle to Hans Fallada at the speed of a sentence. When I am lucky enough to be reading a novel by Rose Tremain I am deliciously overtaken by a writer who understands human behavior and desire and can write about those things in a the context of a story brilliantly. Her writing doesn't lecture to me, it invites me in to discover.

Happy, Happy, Happy

P.S. I read the Brit edition of Trespass. It's due out here in October. Which cover do you prefer? I think the Brit cover better represents the novel. The U.S. cover is attractive and conveys an air of mystery but it does nothing to reinforce or even convey what trespassing means.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Russian Winter

Flower, my friend.

The cover got me. I had to stop and look. It's pretty isn't it? Even though there is nothing at all original about the art. The cover beckons but alas it does not fulfill. It's unfinished. It's the start of a beautiful cover and yet it's oddly blank. The flat clarity of the figure verses the worn depth of the background surface don't mesh. They fight each other instead of complimenting each other. Sadly that turned out to be a prophecy for the novel.

Russian Winter is a cradle to grave story of Nina Revekaya a once great ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet now living out her remaining days in Boston with only her maid for company. Her past comes to light when she decides to auction her jewels for the benefit of the Boston Ballet Foundation. Her secrets are pursued by a young associate from the auction house and a professor of Russian who believes that Nina can explain the mysteries from his own past.

The sections of the novel about life in Stalinist Russia and those regarding everything to do with ballet, both the work and the rewards, were very interesting. Author Daphne Kalotay has done her research. The lives of the artists, the fearful politics, the efforts of creativity under a repressive regime, Kalotay successfully builds a you-are-there world for all of that and love affairs, betrayals and heartbreak. However as often happens with stories that straddle the past and the present none of the contemporary elements of the novel come close to capturing your attention and involvement to the same degree as the historic elements do.

You won't be reading Russian Winter for the plot. It's old fashioned, picaresque and all ready to be Audrey Hepburn's greatest screen triumph of 1958. It's also entertaining but if you haven't figured out what will happen by page 62 you need to hang up your toe shoes. You will be reading Russian Winter to be enveloped in a specific moment in history in a fascinating backstage environment.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Gendarme


Why do you pick up a book? What makes that book alluring as opposed to the one next to it? Everyone has their sucker points. I'm a sucker for: maps, unique type styles, fabrics, patterns, shoes with no feet in them (But never, never ever feet with no shoes on them!), dishes, tea kettles and tea pots, partially revealed figures and the just plain pretty. Since I buy lots of books there must be an awful lot of covers that peak my interest. Of course you may judge a book worthy of picking up by it's cover but you don't always buy it. I did touch and then buy The Gendarme by first time author Mark Mustian. I had not heard anything about this novel prior to seeing it displayed in an independent bookstore but the cover is so striking (shades of the National Geographic Afghan girl) and so simple that I was compelled to grab it and have a look. If my local chain store was stocking this title at all it was not in one of the many piles of books nor was it faced out in the new fiction section so it did not get my attention.

The gendarme is Emmett Conn. Emmett is a World War I vet near the end of his life. Although he's suffered from memory problems since being injured during the war that prevent him from remembering much of that experience and his life before it, the war has defined his life. Now strange dreams that may or may not be hidden memories from that time are intruding on his life. In these dreams his status as a soldier is confused. He is a gendarme escorting Armenians out of Turkey. He is 'Ahmet Kahn' and he is desperately in love with a young refugee named Araxie. In Emmett's 'real' life his relationships with his grown daughter and grandson are typically complicated and in need of repair. To heal, understand and forgive himself for what may have been his participation in the Armenian Genocide, Emmett must extract the truth of his life from within these illusive and disturbing memories and dreams.

This was an excellent novel. The different periods were brought off beautifully. It was appealing to my love of historical fiction and the contemporary setting was successful as well and so did not suffer by comparison. This is not a history of the genocide but the elements of it that are incorporated into the plot are written with enough authority to capture the level of horrors of that experience. Mustian also writes movingly and believably about Emmett's two lives. The book is told in the first person so our travels with Emmett could very easily have become a tiresome litany of I, I, I and that does not happen. Emmett stays a provocative character throughout the book. Not every character is as fully realized as Emmett and Araxie are but the strength of your interest in the two of them makes up for that lack. Good job Mark Mustian!

Congrats to the wily cover designer of The Gendarme. You tempted me with your mad skills (or mad skillets as my niece says) and it paid off big. And. By the way, how much do you love the word gendarme anyway? Don't you want to keep saying it? Gendarme. Great title choice. That makes The Gendarme a triple threat: terrific novel, gorgeous cover and wonderful title.


P.S. That cover art reminded me of another recent triple threat novel, The Heretic's Daughter. Look here my friend. They are practically twins.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise

Hi Flower.

As a lover of historical fiction when I think of the Tower of London I think of the classics: missing princes, the rack, religious zealots, adulterers, years of imprisonment followed by beheadings and of course jewelery. It does not conjure up for me visions of hearth and home. Well there you have my ignorance because people do actually live there. Wouldn't that be great? For Rent: 3 bedroom, 1 bath with exposed stone, dank air, small windows, moat view and access to the battlements. Usurpers to the throne need not apply.

Following the mode of countless novels and every child's favorite, The Cross-Section Diagram-- and who doesn't love those by the way? They are perfect for extra nosy me!-- The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise slices away a chunk of the Tower to reveal a handful of its apartment dwellers. Among these locals there is a grieving Beefeater and his wife, a newly pregnant barmaid from the Rack and Ruin, a writer of erotica the Reverand Septimus Drew, a philandering Ravenmaster and a ticket inspector---and that's not even the zoo part. The zoo is set up by Balthazar, the Beefeater, by royal decree to house the exotic animals gifted to the Queen. And the Tortoise? He is Balthazar's 108 year old pet and don't blink, he's going to 'run' away. How all of these people and animals come together to end up with a happily ever after is what makes up the winsome wackiness of The Tower.

In her first book, The Matchmaker of Perigord, author Julia Stuart created a world you wish you could live in for the lovelorn matchmaking barber Guillaume. Amour-sur-Belle was a kind of Northern Exposure meets Chocolat. It was sweetly eccentric. The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise takes those qualities and adds more heart and humor. There are moments when the charm of The Tower is more dead weight than light weight but at those times your infatuation with the characters carries the day. This was such an engaging novel. Being transported to London to spend time with Balthazar and Co. put me in a happy place.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Buddha's Orphans


I looked forward to reading Samrat Upadhyay's sophomore novel, Buddha's Orphans. His first novel, The Guru of Love was one of my favorite books when it came out in 2003. He has also published two collections of short stories: Arresting God in Kathmandu in 2001 and The Royal Ghosts in 2006 but I am not a fan of that form so I passed on those and complained that they were not novels.

Buddha's Orphans follows a pair of lovers through four generations of unsettling, chaotic Nepalese history. Abandoned as a baby, Raja's young life is a pillar to post affair taking him in short time through 3 separate families each in desperate straits from either economic or psychological disturbances. Early in his life Raja meets his one true love, Nilu. Despite an alcoholic parent, Nilu's life is idyllic compared to Raja's struggles for security. Nilu's family is stable and comfortable enough to assure her a measure of happiness in life. It's not giving anything away to let you know that the two marry. After that? Read it and find out for yourself.

There is no doubt that Upadhyay is a gifted novelist. In Orphans he takes you from the simplest tranquil moments to heartbreaking personal and political upheaval in a few quick words. There are a couple plot coincidences that make the story move along neatly but those are minor quibbles. The exotic locations and culture (for this American reader) have an effulgence even when they are hostile to the characters that makes me want to read more of Upadhyay's writing---but still not his short stories, sorry. However this novel isn't just a mishmash of it happens everywhere story line inserted into a unique location. Buddaha's Orphans is a life and family affirming story beautifully told.