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The Two Krishnas
The Two Krishnas

Grady Harp, September 15, 2011

A Searingly Powerful Novel

Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla houses magic in his eyes, or in his hands or in his brain. This young writer, born in Mombasa, Kenya, understands his Indian culture and how to imbue the scents and flavors and passions and traditions of that culture into a contemporary novel that not only brings the reader to the appreciation of all that, but also tackles universal issues such as the cauterizing brand of familial roots, the many forms of love, infidelity, dysfunctional father/son relationships, aspects of Hindu and Muslim beliefs, and the cycle of life - and of death. He writes with such fluid prose that each page approaches a lapse into poetry. Not only is his story one which defies the reader to pause before the complex story plays out, but it also informs us of the myriad aspects of immigration and the sense of being dispossessed. In short this is a compelling novel that not only grows into our psyche but also quietly changes the way we perceive the injustices around us.

Rahul and Pooja Kapoor fled their home in Kenya (there is a separate section in the book that explains their extirpation) and settled in Los Angeles where they had a son Ajay and Rahul became a banker. Pooja happily accepted her role as wife and mother and in reproducing the culinary finery of Indian cuisine both at home and for a restaurant/shop, The Banyan. run by her dear friend Charlie and his runner Greg who prefers to be called Parmesh due his desire to be of Indian rather than Jewish heritage. The story begins some years after their arrival when Ajay has become a healthy hunk of a lad looking for a college. Rahul has grown distant - his relationship with Ajay borders on formal and his attention to his beautiful wife's needs has waned. Pooja yearns for the sensuality of the early days of their marriage but finds solace in looking after her handsome son, her cooking, and her friend Sonali - a flamboyant neighbor friend who loves to gossip. Rahul is an atheist and has divorced himself from his past. He bears a strange inner longing that surfaces in a bookstore when he makes eye contact with a handsome storekeeper Atif, a Muslim from Mumbai who seems comfortable with his life: Atif is the age of Rahul's son Ajay. The look is returned and shortly the two men discover their sensual feelings and begin an affair. Rahul attempts to keep both sides of his emotional life alive - he is still devoted to Pooja and Ajay but for the first time since a tragic childhood experience he is in touch with his sexuality. Pooja notes the growing distance between them but it is not until Sonali spies on Rahul and Atif in embrace that Pooja must face the fact that her husband has found love with a man. The manner in which Pooja and Rahul cope with the change winds into an ending that is profoundly surprising.

One of the many gifts of Dhalla is his comfortable manipulation of Hindu words and customs and aromas and traditions: he weaves a multifaceted mandala that teaches the readers so much about Indian culture. He also surveys many of the beliefs and myths of Hinduism that offer explanations of human behavior, including sexuality, that is very well considered and informative. His dialogue is peppered with influences from Muslim thought (from Atif) and Hindu thought (from Pooja): it is also smoothly sophisticated in construction in a way that makes his very sensual love scenes excitingly poetic and credible. There is so much in this novel to mesmerize the reader that words in a review falter in attempting to express the impact of this fine novel. Rarely has a love story in all its facets and permutations been so consistently effective and affecting. Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla is an inordinately gifted writer - one of our best. His gift is extravagant but it is also keenly honed in subtlety. We should be hearing a lot more about him in the coming months and years.

Grady Harp
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Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas by Troy Parfitt
Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas

Grady Harp, September 7, 2011

'East is east and west is west And the wrong one I have chose'

The selected title of this review comes from a 1948 song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans from the film 'The Paleface' (the song goes on to be known as 'Buttons and Bows'). And the Inscrutable East was also address by Rudyard Kipling in his 1889 poem, The Ballad of East and West:

Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

That may serve as a bit of the background to this fascinating, well-constructed, delightfully written by Troy Parfitt: so many misconceptions, prejudices, myths, and sense of the 'unknowable inscrutable' world of China have been a part of our lack of knowledge about a very large country who seems to be growing into greater and greater power by the day. China owns the majority of US Treasury bonds, makes most of the toys and computer parts fund in this country, and has recently surpassed Japan as a major world power financially. So where does the magical mysticism of the Far East become distilled into reality so that we all have a better idea of the potential of China to be the world leader? Well, this book WHY CHINA WILL NEVER RULE THE WORLD: TRAVELS IN TWO CHINAS pulls together a lot of information that makes much of what have been ambiguous facts, digestible alternative observations on what the media would have us believe.

While there is little doubt that China's influence on the world is significant, careful examination of the truths by a young writer who has lived in Asia for twelve years (Korea and Taiwan) and speaks Mandarin fluently, a Canadian man with degrees in American history and Canadian political science, and a certificate to teach English as a second language in Asia, brings home the realities of one who has traveled in China, met with the people, absorbed the history and traditions, and the has taken the time to sort all of this out into a very readable book. Much of the pleasure of delving into this book is the format in which it is related. Parfitt uses the travelogue approach: he spent months traveling about China as a 'tourist', getting to know the people and interviewing some very important sources, and as a result he brings home far different concepts than dwell in the golden clouds that hang above China's mysterious presence.

Parfitt looks beyond the shining skyscrapers of the new 'Westernized' China and pulls focus to the realities of how China truly looks up close. He shares with the reader that China's great rise as a potential leader of the world is an illusion, that simply because China has imitated the facades of the West, the belief systems are in a disparate state. One of the more interesting aspects Perfitt shares is the Confucian Hierarchy is the chief social structure in Chinese society - a very rigid 'top-down rubric' manner of life that is not compatible with the Western manner of living or functioning. A bit of definition here: 'Following the abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the official state ideology of China, until it was replaced by the "Three Principles of the People" ideology with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoist Communism after the ROC was replaced by the People's Republic of China in Mainland China. The core of Confucianism is humanism, the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren, yi, and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community. Confucianism holds that one should give up one's life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi. Confucianism is humanistic and non-theistic, and does not involve a belief in the supernatural or in a personal god.'

That said, Parfitt discovered through his conversations and interviews from throughout China that most educated Chinese people do not want democracy and blame the West for many of its problems. He also discovered that many of the myths about China are fiction and that given the direction of the country at present makes the potential for becoming the ruler of the world highly unlikely. He also points our the human rights abuses, peasant revolts, growing concern over an expanding military, tainted exports, natural disasters, pollution, and the constant friction and unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang - all of which negate many fears that China is set to rule the world. His commentary on the opium use is an eye-opener, and his relating of the history of Chiang Kai-shek and Chairman Mao Tse-Tung makes for fascinating reading. Parfitt came across a list of items that were not allowed to enter China: printed matter, films, photos, gramophone records, and any form of cinematographic films, CDs, and any form of storage media that would be detrimental to the political, economic, and moral interests of China!

There is so much in this book that could be quoted, but one of the aspects few reviewers are touching on is Tony Parfitt's writing skills in painting simply stunning images of the grand scenery and the atmosphere that abounds in this near-indecipherable land. There are likely to be readers who disagree with Parfitt's findings - and that just makes for al the more reason to read this book for yourselves. It is a different view, a challenging view, a comforting view in some ways, and a bit of a needed does of reality as the globe makes less and less sense daily. And after reading the book between East and West, perhaps the tile of the review will alter thinking a bit! Highly recommended.

Grady Harp
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Cross Currents by John Shors
Cross Currents

Grady Harp, September 6, 2011

Nature/Nurture: John Shors Finds the Relationship Again

John Shors has secured his place among popular American novelists of the decade with this his sixth novel that combines a growing respect of the beauties of the globe and the intricacies of the manner in which characters seemingly misplaced in locales seek to find themselves only to discover that their place in the confusion of the world is close at hand, partially shaded by nature's vagaries.

CROSS CURRENTS is Shors reaction to the now almost forgotten massively destructive tsunami that devastated much of Thailand in December 2004. His love of travel to exotic places seems to instill in him an obsession for his readers to visit the places that have meant much to him. In preparation for this particular novel he revisited Thailand several times, gathering information for his plot, but more important, soaking in the cultural differences in this exotic locales so that he might paint it more accurately.

He introduces us to a Thai family of simple means - Lek, Sarai, and their three children who make a living running an island tourist `resort' on the island of Ko Phi Phi. They have given harbor to an American lad by the name of Patch whom we later learn is avoiding the law after a poorly judged run-in with drug dealing. Patch and the children are particularly close and Patch's presence helps the little family survive.

From the United States comes Patches look alike brother Ryan with his girlfriend Brooke: Ryan is there in Thailand to convince Patch to turn himself in to the authorities, take his punishment and get on with his life. The brothers are very close, but different in their values systems. A rife divides not only the brothers but also unstable bond between Ryan and Brooke. After each of the brothers realizes the value of the other and the world begins to make a little sense, the tsunami comes and destroys the island and many of the inhabitants, but the fate of Patch and Ryan and Brooke and Ryan's newly discovered love of a massage girl Dao is altered in a strange way that brings closure to the story.

Shors has the ability to take us to the locations where he places his novels to the point that we can smell the air, feel the water, taste the cuisine, and most important understand the inhabitants of these far off lands' peoples. He has a gift in relating formation of relationships of all kinds and manipulates his characters in such a way that they become close friends of ours, making us feel their joys and sorrows like few other authors can. And a pleasure associated with his writing is the lack of need for exaggerated language or sex: everything happens naturally and while he doesn't concentrate on dwelling with issues that can become tiresome, nor does he deny these exist. It is a matter of taste in his writing that overcomes the need for smarmy writing. He has the gift as is obvious by the accolades from famous authors pasted in the first pages of his book. John Shors will be around for a long time.

Grady Harp
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Speaking Truths by Dayna Hester
Speaking Truths

Grady Harp, September 5, 2011

Lost and Found: A Powerful Novel by Dayna Hester

Dayna Hester arrives on the literary scene as a highly polished artist with her remarkably compelling book SPEAKING TRUTHS. Yes, she comes to this state of relating the story of a kidnapped child, who under the force of abuse envisions himself as someone he most assuredly is not and in returning to his pre-abducted life goes through stages of memory reorganization, well prepared: she served as a court stenographer hearing criminal cases and language daily in the courtroom, she received her degree in English and Philosophy from UCLA, and completed studies in the psychophysiology of trauma. From out of all this preparation she has delivered a book that is not only spellbinding as a novel but also a book that teaches the readers the intricacies of dealing with youngsters who have been abused to the point of kidnapping and then returning to society: one cannot help but find some similarities between the story of Landon Starker/Tyler Roberts and that of Jaycee Lee Dugard, the girl kidnapped at age 11 by Phillip Garrido and for 18 years was kept as a sex slave in a shack, forced to bear children to her perpetrator.

We meet Landon Starker as a mouthy truant troubled teen, into drugs and sociopathic behavior, whose father Bob abuses him physically and sexually in their filthy trailer in Nebraska. Landon's best friend talks him into driving to a drug deal and the two boys are caught by the police, fingerprinted and released. But the FBI shows up at the trailer having matched Landon's prints with those of a missing child named Tyler Roberts, takes him to a staging facility where Landon slowly learns and grows to accept that was kidnapped by Bob and is being returned to his parents in Colorado Springs, CO. The tale weaves slowly but inexorably through the many people who are involved in the re-education of Landon to Tyler, and Tyler accepts his birth parents and new family. Bob is imprisoned and new information arises about the history of 'Landon's' supposed brother K.C. - a mystery that unravels, ending in a courtroom where Tyler is ultimately able to get in touch with his emotions and his sense of self and begin the long road to recovery.

The story is a painful one to read but Hester's ability to create completely credible characters makes it flow as our emotions are pierced and punctured. She presents the people in 'Landon's' life with such precision that we can smell the filth and feel the tragedy, and yet when she brings her main character under the care of a home for abused children every one of the forces - FBI agent, therapist, even janitor and other companions in the facility - are completely three-dimensional and bring us to an understanding of the psychodynamics of the life of our main character. Her introduction of the parents of Tyler is smooth for us and understandably difficult for Tyler, and the trial that Tyler must endure is some of the finest courtroom drama since Harper Lee. Dayna Hester quite obviously has prepared well for her first novel and the result is a polished work that begs to be made into a film: it is obvious which actors should play the parts and which director could bring this off! If there is a flaw in this book, for this reader it is the last chapter that tidies up too many loose ends - a bit too 'make nice' for a story this powerful. But for many readers this kind of resolution is very much needed. Read this book. It is brilliant!

Grady Harp
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You Are a Gift to the World by Michael Paul Brown
You Are a Gift to the World

Grady Harp, September 1, 2011

'I'll see it because I believe it.'

This little book by Michael Paul Brown may appear to be on the surface a memoir from a son to a mother. And in many ways it is that - but it is so very much more. Even the most hardened reader of self-help books can fail to be not only touched and moved by the writing of Brown, but the transformation of self perception that comes after spending time reading and doing the exercises that the writer shares is strangely otherworldly. Brown happens to write very well (and it appears this is his first venture into the field of written communication), and that fact draws the attention of seasoned readers almost on the first page.

The premise is seemingly simple: as Brown's mother repeatedly told the at times unbelieving young man 'You are a gift to the world', it is now a time that Brown has internalized this message, transformed it into credibility, changed his life, and now offers the same assistance to those fortunate enough to happen upon this book. 'We create the experience of our reality through our thoughts, feelings and actions. We may think it's about attracting things outside of ourselves, but it's about the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves and about what is actually happening outside of us. These stories - and the words we are saying to ourselves in between our ears - create the way we experience reality.' '"The truth" is that the way we see, hear, and listen is a veil pulled over reality, which prevents us form actually seeing things as they really are.' Brown aids us in removing that veil with his warmly caring writing and support.

Michael Paul Brown urges us to look into that mirror that reflects our image and to tell that image that we are a gift to the world - then, believe it. It is that spirit of being special that transforms lives into ones of joy and into a universal harmony and empowers each of us to fulfill the potential we have been helpless to confront without some guidance. Brown happens to make the journey to that place with us by sharing the influence of unconditional love with which his mother constantly bathed him. He and his mother form a matrix upon which we as readers are enabled to empower ourselves to give both us and the world the special grace that lies within us.

This is a powerful little book that is worthy of reading many times and then sharing, both in discussions, in changes of actions and outlooks that will be obvious to everyone around us, and in handing it to friends and family. If ever there were a time to present this book to the global community it is most assuredly now.

Grady Harp
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