The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

roopaGloBooks  finds out whether The Good Children  really was a good read. 

I was fascinated by how they are created,” she said during a recent event for lucky readers at the London based Foreign Fiction Bookclub…. and this fascination underpins her sixth novel The Good Children.

But rather than focus this fascination on a modern-day Hitler or a Joseph Fritzl, Farooki looks for the evil in everyday life, peeling the facade that covers a supposedly happy society family in the midst of the heat of Lahore in post-partition Pakistan to reveal the ugly interior.

While riots rage around them and others wilt under the pressures of a demanding and repressive society, the Saddeq household comprising of a couple, four children and assorted servants, smile through this turbulent period in the history of the Indian subcontinent, albeit with gritted teeth.

Later, the eldest of the four children , Sulaman Saddeq, or Sully, is to become an expert on how evil spread through Nazi Germany and otherwise “normal” people ended up as accomplices to the slaughter of the country’s Jewish population.

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Roopa Farooki  was the Foreign  Fiction Bookclub`s Guest Author

But the real study begins much earlier in his life and that of his siblings.

The Good Children is told through the eyes of the two sons and two daughters of the household. But the central figure, the anti-protagonist, is their sociopath mother, who puts Grimm’s stepmother into the shade with the brutal manner in which she brings up her children and forces them into stereotypes of perfect children – the two boys are designed to be doctors, the two girls to be wives. Thus she becomes of a metaphor for that most callous of monsters – a repressive society.

The story charts the attempt of  each these four children to escape the clutches of the fate she has bestowed on them. But as Sully, the eldest son, finds out, physical distance alone does not banish her ghost.

The story begins with the four children in their teens. Mrs Saddeq is intent on projecting an image of the perfect family. So she trills over her husband’s every word and whips her sons and daughters into shape, forcing them into the stereotypes of perfect children: her sons are sent away to become doctors, her daughter to become good wives.

Perhaps the most compelling portion of the novel is a brief and thrilling few chapters where the eldest daughter Mae, denied her dream of being a doctor like the boys, rebels by playing the role set down for so well that she briefly threatens to take unseat her mother’s place at the head of the household. Eventually, the coup fails and there’s no physical escape for Mae, who stays behind as all three of the others make good their escape, Sully to the U.S. and Jakie to the U.K. where he is followed eventually by Lana.

The rest of the book comprises their adventures in these countries and how each of them come to terms with their upbringing, and it becomes much more about the clash of an old way of living and a new.

Jakie is possibly the most successful, his relationship with Irishman Frank, while far from perfect, allowing him to express his compassionate side and cure his wounds with love, enchantingly portrayed by Farooki.

An improbable adoption of an abused Indian maid and her son by this homosexual couple – surely a hard arrangement to square with society in the 1980s? – and his charitable work in Pakistan further helps him heal.

For the women, the road is a much harder one. Both are trapped by marriages, and yet they eventually do escape in their own ways, the perfidy of their husband’s serving as reasons to leave. Lana eventually follows Jackie to London and establishes a life there.

Even though the subject is a tough one, the book is throughout as compelling as any airport page-turner, and almost worth reading for Farooki’s gorgeous imagery alone. She uses violent images to describe the most domestic of tasks, constantly jarring the reader out of their complacency.

Amma beat us ferociously, as though it was exercise, and something that she needed to stretch and limber up for in advance. Like a local lawman in the villages, charged with administering a hundred lashes to a young rape victim for her adultery.”

For a book that evocatively describes the hardships and injustice women face in society, both in Pakistan and beyond, it’s a pity that she doesn’t spend more time on It is unfortunate, then, that she appears to lose interest in the female half of her set of protagonists, spending a majority of time describing the lives of Sully and Jackie and the various people they meet, Irishman being the most compelling of the side characters.

Lana, and particularly Mae, don’t get this sort of special treatment even though they are arguably the more interesting characters whilst growing up.

It’s easy to get tired of Sully’s morbid and flawed introspection, and the reader has to exercise a large slice of suspension of disbelief when reading about Jakie’s life.The overall impression is of a muscular giant of a book in the making that runs out of steam halfway through the journey.

Farooki’s decision not to delve into arguably the books most interesting character – the mother – except in the most cursory manner, is another point for debate. Given the understanding she shows to almost all the other characters, surely a few chapters exploring her backstop wouldn’t go amiss?

But perhaps the book is the more effective for it. Once dissected, the monster becomes pitiable rather than fascinating. And that fascination is what gives The Good Children its tremendous energy.

The Good Children  (416 pages ) Published by Tinder Press

2016-06-12 09.47.42Abhinav Ramnarayan is a Journalist and Foreign Fiction Blogger 

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The Good Children -Roopa Farooki The Review

More or Less Asians? A debate on Stereotypes in Literature. An Asia House Event: The Review

Top Left to Right. Blogger and writer Anna Chen, Presenter Bidisha and Film maker Daniel York. Bottom Left to Right. Novelist Niven Govinden and Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan waxed lyrical on the night.
Top Left to Right. Blogger and writer Anna Chen, Presenter Bidisha and Filmmaker Daniel York. Bottom Left to Right. Novelist Niven Govinden and Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan waxed lyrical on the night.
Philip Chadha Founder of globooks.net which showcases the best in international fiction.
Philip Chadha Founder of globooks.net which showcases the best in international fiction.

Every once in while we have seminal moments in the arts and at times we return to seemingly well trodden roads and in particular the subject of stereotypes or in this case Asian stereotypes in literature, do they exist?

Are there more or less then before? It was the subject up for energetic debate at the recent event held at Asia House in London.

The debate provided a looking glass on the whole subject of Asian stereotypes in literature and gifted a moment of much needed reflection on the issue as the end of 2014 hurtles towards us.

GloBooks supported the sell-out event , attracting large numbers. Its topic clearly resonated  with the audience.
GloBooks supported the sell-out event , attracting large numbers. Its topic clearly resonated with the audience.
There was the ever clear and present danger of the event possibly rankling a few observers through heated debate and if you were of the persuasion that things were just fine and dandy then you were likely to have your quiet non-plussed persuasion punctured.This was not going to be BBC light entertainment fodder for Saturday night television by any standards. One was almost expecting effigy burning of every publisher who said no, every publisher who said maybe and every publisher who said could be. Forgive me though for a moment of jocularity. I thought it might make for a good diversionary tactic from being overly serious or being hangdog. However the inescapable fact is that even in a multicultural, multi-media liberal leaning 2014 Britain, we still need to debate and interrogate the whole idea of stereotypes in the arts and in particular in literature.Presenter Biddsha asked presenter Yasmin Khan just what stereotypes were expected of her during her professional life.
Presenter Bidisha presided over the proceedings.
Presenter Bidisha presided over the proceedings.
She recalls a production meeting and recounts what one programme commissioner apparently said to her during a meeting. The commissioner apparently told her “Its great that that you bring us stories but don’t feel that you cant bring other stuff, stories about your community..” and right there was the first seemingly outmoded word “community”. The idea of Asians being part of an all-embracing, homogenous community is undoubtedly an urban myth. The impression of Asians being representative of communities has always been around. How are Asians though by the very nature of the fact that we are Asian, somehow representative of all communities? Does that make us qualified to talk on ethnic matters ? possibly; to be somehow flag bearers for all things Asian or even standard- bearers possibly not, since the ethnic make-up of areas up and down the country are affected by a multitude of influences including political, social, cultural; socio-economic or otherwise.

So from a literature standpoint, its not difficult to be riled slightly, even for the more phlegmatic ones amongst us. Author on the panel niven Bidisha underscored the point of how there are certainly very familiar narratives in Asian fiction; the forced arranged marriage being the most popular one et al and possibly making the cosily more common stories more “publishable” then others. Govinden commented “If you are far more singular about your work then you don’t have to work in that way.” You might ask the genesis of stereotypes in literature normally is with the very publishers themselves, leading one to think that there are not enough ethnic minorities within the publishing industry. Niven revealed how the trade publication The Bookseller did a follow-up to a study done a decade ago, highlighting the problem of a lack of ethnic minorities in the publishing industry and guess what? Things have not changed a decade later. Just what are the concrete things that need to be done asked presenter Bidisha. According to Niven “It begins at university and encouraging more people who are about to graduate to join the industry.”

Frankly if that didn’t get your jowls jarring, then there is the slightly noxious combination of literary fiction and seemingly colonial or genre based Asian stereotypes. Whilst it could be vigorously argued that the South Asian fiction panorama is very much alive and kicking with Jhumpa Lahiri`s The Lowlands.lowlands and Neel Mukherjee`s The Lives of OthersNEEL shortlisted for 2013 and 2014 Booker Prize respectively. According to Niven however, there is an inherent risk of writers simply comforming to a set of literary rules or a genre, just to make their book publishable.”The danger is that you don`t nurture the development of writers who work outside the tradition. Its not challenging work. Its an easy sell. If you spend the kind of attention on writing different kinds of work, you have a far more interesting landscape.”

Asia House Literature Festival Organiser Jemimah Steinfield. “More or Less Asian was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable event. Led by Bidisha, the panellists presented a disparate and interesting range of views, raising important issues in terms of identity and creativity in the UK today."
Asia House Literature Festival Organiser Jemimah Steinfield. “More or Less Asian was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable event. Led by Bidisha, the panellists presented a disparate and interesting range of views, raising important issues in terms of identity and creativity in the UK today.”
My fear is that in satisfying the commercial whims of certain publishers who like theatre producers need to get bums on seats,like film makers need to shift cinema tickets; writers might be implicitly expected to produce stories that use cosily familiar stereotypical images that lets face it sell. Historical, political stories with high drama and tension- fuelled communal relations might be exquisitely written and deemed Booker prize worthy, but it might be argued are they really examples of fresh, challenging fiction?

Perhaps that`s a debate for another time. Yet its not all literary doom and gloom. Hope does spring eternal. There are books that are challenging that romanticised, chocolate box image of South Asian writing with redefining work that delivers a big fat Glasgow kiss so the charming expression goes, to all stereotyped or genre based fiction. Deepa Kapoor`s Bad Character was in my mind, a game-changer of a novel with its story turning the image of the young stay-at- home Asian woman on its head and presents an uncompromising image of the under-belly of Delhi.

Deepti  Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
We now need a new generation of authors to rewrite the rules on South Asian literature with exciting and enduring stories that give stereotypes a wide berth.
Marvel-logo-oficial Like a band of literary iconoclasts, ridding the publishing world of trite stereotypes and protecting challenging literature, super heroes to rival even Marvel,s finest, we will hopefully have novels that are a rollicking good read, bring in the greenbacks and challenge hackneyed literary characters in the process. Now wouldn’t that be a marvel ?

All The Days and Nights Published by The Friday Project and Bad Character published Jonathon Cape Random House are both out now.

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More or Less Asians? A debate on Stereotypes in Literature. An Asia House Event: The Review

I AM CHINA BY XIAOLU GUO Book Review

Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel

I AM CHINA written by Xiaolu Guo is a cautionary story of exiled Chinese musician and former Chinese Punk Jian and his girlfriend Mu. The title comes from Vassily Grossman’s magnum opus, Life and Fate, the epic novel of human survival under totalitarianism and the closing line of his own manifesto .

Iona Kirkpatrick is a 31 year old translator tasked with making sense of the letters given to her by her publishing company. Slowly but surely she perseveringly pieces together a love story across the ages. Layer by layer,she gives us a backdrop to the love affair, which is a politically harsh, angular regime which never-endingly excoriates its citizens.

This a book which takes you on an odyssey, a love story across continents that spans the generations and is written in the first person of the character Iona. Guo presents something of a detective story and invites our curiosity, cleverly hooking the reader in from the beginning to end. The translator seemingly unlocks secrets from the past and decodes the story hidden between lines of language. As the story unfolds before us, we get glimpses of the character`s past and their seemingly disparate lives. Guo has a gift for being allegorical without feeling as a reader you are being clubbed on the head with meanings or sign-posted for themes. There are clearly over-arching themes of cultural displacement, distance, and how we stead-fastly remain wedded to our beliefs to a fault; that they can shape us perhaps even hijack us and prevent us from changing in an ever-changing world. In a letter to Jian, comparing America to China, Mu talks of how America is the land of living and live clichés and points to the stark comparison with China. She writes; Its like ideology, you are told to believe some stuff and you are not supposed not to give it up ! Maybe that’s the difference with China. We struggle like buffalo all our lives and we still don’t become someone.”

Just as Jian is in exile thousands of miles away from his own country, there are parallels with Iona who is also someone who has become a reticent London resident. Iona herself is from the isle of Iona and it could be argued is culturally displaced. Yet as she was growing up, she wanted to escape the confines of her small island upbringing. Describing Iona`s childhood, Guo writes; her childhood was about waiting, wondering and the promise of what lay beyond the sea.”

It`s a complex love story which at times is laconic, brutal, uncompromising and laced with Guo`s ironic humour, that is at times bitter-sweet but never saccharine. There’s a juxtaposition between Mu`s rhythmic life, full of life’s nuances and Jian`s life of physically being trapped at the detention centre and trapped by his own beliefs. We see Iona who is emotionless, grasping for human contact in meaningless sexual one off encounters.

In one part of the book, we have Kublai Jian penning a letter to the Queen during his detention in a Lincolnshire Psychiatric Hospital in the vain hope that he can appeal to what he thinks is the highest law in the land “In China we say that if you can talk to the boss then don’t talk to the boss`s secretary and if you can talk to the boss`s wife then no need to talk to the boss. So dear Queen you are the boss lady, you are the top one! Whilst not actually a prison, it has a semblance of one and the oft-quoted line. “detained at the majesty`s pleasure taking on a
whole new meaning.

There is a literary play-off between the adventurist Mu who leaves behind her native Beijing to go to the States to pursue her dream of being a performance poet, persuaded by her manager that she should off-load her name and adopt the hip name of Sabotage Sisters. She becomes part of the touring group Beijing Maniac. There’s almost an ironic wink to the American Dream and a literary homage to the road movie as they tour from state to state. There is a boldness, a courage, and this contrasts to Iona`s life of existing on “a loop” living. Yet Mu feels a strange disconnect with her new life. She writes “Is that me? I feel that I am wearing a disguise – underneath I am a hundred percent Chinese daughter of the countryside.. its as if Im pretending to be someone else.”

Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China

Guo however simply falls into the trap of polarising the free and righteous West with the politically harsh China rather then presenting a 21st century view with its grey areas and political nuances. We hear that the publisher has to pull Iona from the translation task as he cannot risk possible ramifications if he goes ahead and publishes the book following a sinister call from the Minister of State Security that he should not publish anything in relation to Kublai Jian who is the son of a high ranking Chinese politician, fearful of any media publicity. Iona`s character felt listless and it felt there wasn’t enough substance to lift her off the page. However in an ending befitting of a novel that is epic in its story telling and fluid in its prose, I AM CHINA will certainly be on your must-read list for this year and beyond.
I AM CHINA published by Chatto and Windus.

Philip Chadha – Founder of http://www.globooks.net – Destination Point For Foreign Fiction Fans

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I AM CHINA BY XIAOLU GUO Book Review

Love in the Time of Cholera : Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a master of lush proses, vivid descriptions and also a literary alchemist who takes all the elements of an epic story and produces a novel that will leave you enchanted. Set on the exotic Caribbean coast at the dawn of the twentieth century, it tells the story of this seemingly hopeless teenage romantic Florentino Ariza and the object of his affection, the beautiful and mysterious Fermina Daza. Set in a time where Cholera, a disease which ravages towns and leaves death in its wake. and certainly a metaphor for the power and madness of love.

From the moment he first sees her, he is consumed with love and desire for the beautiful Fermina and is completely intoxicated with love or certainly what he feels is undeniably love. Marquez is beautifully skilled as a writer and leaves you with an immersive read. He is someone who understands the nuances of human condition and offers profound insights.

Riza rigorously pursues Fermina with romantic missives designed to disarm her but in fact his determination simply leaves her amazed. Fortunately to help with the matters of love we have her trusted aunt Escolastica Daza who uses her feminine wiles to help young love along. Marquez writes “it was a year they fell into devastating love. Neither one could do anything about the other, dream about the other and wait for letters with the same `impatience they felt when they answered them.”

Unfortunately for the lovelorn couple, Fermina`s father comes to know about the affair and makes a suggestion to the lover. “So I have come to make a request of you.. “Get out of my way”. The path of love never runs smoothly as the old adage goes. Yet consumed by romance, driven by love and desire, he replies, “There is no greater glory than to die for love” ” He decides to take her on a long journey. Even during the journey, the embers of love are kept alive and far from being a love supernova, Florentino keeps his love forever iridescent and prevents it from becoming the ghostly vapours of the past through Florentino`s steady stream of telegrams.

But on her return from her father`s imposed exile, she has a chance encounter with her love deity Florentino and the reality of seeing Florentino delivers a thousand cuts to her cherished image. Marquez writes “in an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her and she asked herself, appalled, how her own mistake could have nurtured such a chimera for so long and with such ferocity” Marquez takes your own romantic spirits to a high only to send them crashing. Is this a tragi-comic take on modern life ? Reality has a way of quickly sobering you from a bout of romanticism.

Yet Florentino`s early love affair is again derailed when the extremely marriageable suitor Dr Juvenal Urbino becomes completely besotted with Fermina and from then on begins the merry dance of wooing his new found love and eventually marries her. Cruel fate somehow gives Florentino an opportunity to win Fermina`s love when her husband dies in a bizarre accident. Does he finally win her love again ?

Yet far from living in regrets, Florentino pursues a series of romantic affairs as a tonic for his troubles. But does his romantic dalliances sully the whole idea of love? In his later years, his desire traverses into a dark obsession. Or does it ? You will have to decide.

This is a book for the eternal optimist, the hopeful rather then hopeless romantic. Marquez`s story prompts you to ask Is he in love with the very notion of love ? Is teenage love real love ? Or just an ephemeral passion or even a powerful emotion mistaken for love. When does enduring love become an obsession ? Maybe love for the real romantic is enduring, impregnable and above all unquestionable. Who are we cynics to suggest otherwise ? Marquez`s writing is wonderfully prosaic, witty and seduces you with his quixotic writing and wonderful insights.

Did you know ?
The first English translation was published in the USA by Alfred A Knopf, Inc, New York and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Ltd Toronto 1988.Published by Penguin Books 1989. It was translated by Edith Grossman (born March 22, 1936). She is an award-winning American Spanish-to-English literary translator and is one of the most important translators of Latin American fiction in the past century, translating the works of Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, Mayra Montero, Augusto Monterroso, Jaime Manrique, Julián Ríos and of Álvaro Mutis.

About The Author:
Gabriel Marcia Marquez was born in Aracataca Columbia in 1928 and studied at University of Bogata. He has published several novels including One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

Love in the Time of Cholera : Gabriel Garcia Marquez