Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves

The Secret Life of Roberta Greaves

by Ann Birch

 A Review

With delicious wit and irony, Ann Birch tells the story of Roberta Greaves, a professor of classic literature at Trinity College. Roberta compromises her moral principles and her professional integrity in order to raise money to cover her dead husband’s debts.

No, she doesn’t deal drugs or sleep with the Dean. She writes a sleazy, steamy novel—a work of pure crap. She gets the idea from a story of lust and incest told in classical literature by Ovid, the Roman poet.  Myrrha of Ovid’s tale becomes Mira, the heroine of Roberta’s pulp. It sells, big time.

Her success has serious negative repercussions, and Roberta deeply regrets what she has done, even though the project achieves its purpose.  She must hide her connection to Mira from her family and colleagues. She is in danger of losing everything she loves if she is found out and if she isn’t.

Supported by those who love her, Roberta makes her way through the mess of deceit and loss to a place where she sees a way to redeem herself.  The book has a spectacularly happy ending. Enjoy.

by Isobel Raven

 

“From Mind to Keyboard” with Contributions from Ben Antao

mindtokeyboardA Writer’s Journey

From Mind to Keyboard: A Review

Iris C F Gomes
Being a writer is a hard work and anybody who has dabbled in writing, albeit occasionally, will bear testimony to the fact. Imagine having the gumption to carry on with it alongside your primary source of income, or even adopting it as your only means of livelihood. Only the madness and passion that fuels the tenacity of writers presents us with a plausible answer to why there are people who have chosen to enter into writing professionally.

From Mind to Keyboard, edited by Sheela Jaywant and published by Goa, 1556, is a book of stories from different writers living in Goa about their journeys as writers: what set off the spark and what kept them going despite any odds that presented themselves against their choice. The contributors are not all of Goan origin, and so they provide us with an insight into a writing world and its struggles that goes beyond the narrow confines of our State. It is, nevertheless, heartening to acknowledge the number of prominent writers Goa has produced.

The book has journalist Ben Antao transporting us to a pre-liberation Goa, documenting his balancing act of working for the Bombay Port Trust, writing for the Indian Express and the Goan Tribune, and commencing his MA studies, before finally coming to work for the Navhind Times in Goa under Lambert Mascarenhas. Antao talks about the requirements of being a journalist, namely the possession of knowledge that covers many areas as well as the knowledge of the specific details of a particular sphere or discipline: something that makes journalism an incredibly challenging field. He is candid about the very human limitations of journalism in presenting the absolute truth.

Award winning writer and food historian Odette Mascarenhas talks about publishing woes with regard to the first book she wrote, which was about her father-in-law Miguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas, a noted Goan chef. She describes how she learnt to handle praise and criticism, moving on to write children’s books and a Goan recipe book among others in the story titled Rocky Roads Bring Out the Best in Me.

An ardent lover of books since childhood, internationally and nationally acclaimed Konkani writer Damodar Mauzo confides that he once believed that Konkani could not be used as a medium for expressing prose. This fallacy was destroyed when he absorbed the writing of Shenoy Goem-Bab, eventually leading Mauzo along a path of fame.

Goa Streets’ Steve Gutkin leads us through an interesting journalistic career with not a dull moment. In one of the livelier reads in the book, he recounts being stranded with the Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon jungle, covering drug cartels in Columbia, travelling with Hugo Chavez, writing about suicide bombings and the death of Yasser Arafat in Israel and so on. The man could write a book on his own experiences as a journalist.

Author Anita Pinto’s verses are a fun and refreshing way of telling her story, I Write, In Verse, as she departs from the monotony of prose.

The rest of the writers come from varied backgrounds including soldiers, teachers and engineers, but the commonalities in their histories are their ravenous appetite for reading, their determined focus on writing, no matter the financial repercussions, and their insatiable thirst for learning.

Apart from the obvious prowess of the writers involved, Bina Nayak’s illustrations, which capture the essence of every tale told, must be commended. The book offers its readers a closer look at personalities they know only through their writing. From Mind to Keyboard makes an excellent read for young people starting out in the business of writing as it advises on pitfalls to avoid and enthuses with tales of dogged dedication to the craft. It can be recommended as a necessary addition to the reading list of students of literature and journalism.

A Flower for Allie by Isobel Raven

flowerforallieThere is something singularly attractive about Isobel Raven’s short stories. I have just reread A Flower for Allie after a two-year gap, and lost none of my enthusiasm.

Ten of the stories are set in rural southwestern Ontario, 1930-50, and six in Toronto, 1990-2000. The author draws us quickly into her chosen times and places. Each story moves fast but without haste. Every word contributes to plot, character, or atmosphere; there is no waste. The seemingly effortless style is direct and clear, fresh, invigorating, good-natured, and insightful (one senses decades of careful observation).

Isobel Raven reminds us how ordinary stories about ordinary people become extraordinary in the hands of extraordinary writers. While providing discreet details that build a vivid and convincing picture, she does not tell too much – leaving us to imagine how matters might develop in the rest of the story, and beyond.

Though her voice is her own, Isobel Raven reminds me pleasingly of Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, and Stephen Leacock. Indeed, Munro, the book’s dedicatee, wrote to her, “I am delighted with the stories, which seem to me to have a unique tone and a special, keen vision.” I share that delight.

This book stands firmly, fittingly, right up there in my Canadiana shelves.

Barry Clegg

A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time by Barry Clegg

spectacle.indd

Barry Clegg’s Poems: A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time

I always take a look on the authors’ table at the WEN breakfast meeting. After leafing through Barry Clegg’s first volume of poems, A Rare Spectacle, I trotted over to him and said,” I want to buy your book. I just read one of your poems and I know exactly what you mean.”

front cover Beginning of TimeThis was a rare experience for me. Not a habitual reader of poetry, I usually find myself more puzzled than enlightened if I venture into that genre. “What are you getting at?” I would like to ask the author. But if a poem needs explanation, either the reader or the poet has failed. Feeling that the failure must be mine, I tend to avoid poetry.

Barry Clegg offers welcome success. All the poems in his two collections tell me something on first reading. He uses familiar experience—encounters with sparrows or city noise or old friends or his own right hand. He has a long memory for the experience of childhood, and an acute sense of the experience of aging; these I know well.

But second and third readings reward even more than the first. It is in these that I enjoy Clegg’s playfulness and humour, appreciate the depth of his love for humankind, for music, and for the life of the mind. The ordinary is lifted up, turned over, illuminated. He takes sly pokes at us writers too. Try reading “Overbosity” or “Typso” in A Rare Spectacle without seeing something of yourself.

Writing poetry is often called an exercise in distillation, in concentrating the essence of experience is just a few telling words. In both A Rare Spectacle and The Beginning of Time Barry Clegg has produced a fine vintage, to mix the metaphor. A hearty brew. A quality libation.

Isobel Raven

February, 2015

 

 

Love Triangle by Ben Antao

Love Triangle : a novel in terza rima and 160 sonnets
by Ben Antao
Cinnamon Teal Publishing, Goa , India, 2014
“Lust between a lesbian and a heterosexual married man leads to untold grief in this modern story of a love triangle” – from the back cover.
Love Triangle
Ben Antao set himself a formidable challenge. Who writes terza rime these days? My last encounter came years ago with Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Ben maintains the form (aba bcb cdc) through 19 Cantos (83 pages) of iambic pentameter.
The story itself is strongly told. A weekend of passion described in sufficient detail that I am wondering who among my friends I might re-gift with this book. What really gave me pause though was how he dealt with the aftermath of those events. The scope and the ramifications to the lives of the couple and their significant others after that weekend is written in disciplined rhyme with a startling depth of insight.
Of the 160 sonnets, I have only read 20 or so. I tried reading them in sequence but found that though they are listed by theme, they are not best read that way. I will randomly savour them all in time. For now though, I suggest that the book is well worth the purchase for the Love Triangle.
Read in January 2015,
Report by Gayle Dzis.

December 3, 2014 Virginia’s Ghost

carolinekaiser_virginiasghost_web3_5 (2)A Ghost of a Flapper, December 3, 2014
By
Braz Menezes
Virginia’s Ghost (Kindle Edition)
I have always felt nervous in the presence of ghosts. Virginia’s Ghost was no different. I took courage from Author Caroline Kaiser as she led me into the auction house, introduced me to the lead character Virginia Blythe, and then left me, and I didn’t even notice. I was completely absorbed. Virginia is a somewhat nervous character, suspicious of almost everyone, but unlike some of the other employees of Auctioneers Gable & Co, she is a kind sympathetic person, and the perfect protagonist. She made me feel completely at home as I followed her effortlessly. She knew every nook and corner of the auction house. To the layperson, these places may appear as dumps for an assortment of other people’s discarded or distressed assets; just one step away from the scrapyard or landfill. But Virginia changed my mind. She even knew the 200 or so porcelain and ceramic figurines by their first names, as if they were all friends on a FB group. The author does an excellent job of describing ‘the innards’ and functioning of the vast ‘downstairs’ area in the basement, a perfect setting for a mystery story. Early on Virginia meets the ghost for the first time — a woman dressed like a flapper, who is happy speaking at a short distance, but disappears into a wisp of smoke just as Virginia tries to get closer, to know her.
A nervous Virginia shares her ghost experience cautiously with her different work colleagues, all of who are interesting characters, if somewhat hypocritical and dysfunctional as a team. They appear in and out of the story, adding snippets of gossip, rumour and innuendo. The plot thickens and reaches a climax when the overpowering, Brian Gable III boss, an alcohol addict and bully, discovers some very valuable porcelain antiques are missing just before an important sale event. Virginia is held responsible for finding the items, or else. I will leave the rest of the story for the reader to discover.
The author Caroline Kaiser has enriched the setting for Virginia’s Ghost enormously and very credibly, with her previous first-hand experience working in an auction house. Her current expertise as a fine editor results in a book that is beautifully written, meticulously edited, easy to read, informative and entertaining. I have no hesitation recommending it to readers and allocating it a 5 star rating.

 

Book Review by John Ambury

VIRGINIA’S GHOST
Caroline Kaiser

298 pages, paper, perfect-bound
Lavaliere Press, Toronto
© 2014, the author
ISBN 978-09938137

Caroline Kaiser has taken on the challenge of interweaving a present-day murder mystery with events from many decades earlier. She proves herself up to the challenge, and then some!

The contemporary protagonist is narrator Virginia Blythe, an antiques specialist at a prestigious Toronto auction house. Kaiser draws on her experience in that field to give depth and realism to both the sometimes-eerie setting and Virginia’s mostly-unconventional co-workers.

The voice from the 1920s is that of Constance Pendleton, the eligible and socially-striving daughter of a moneyed Rosedale family. We access her story through her long-lost diary, which her ghost brings to Virginia’s rapt attention. Even though Constance is thinking of becoming a novelist, her prose comes off as rather too constructed and descriptive for a personal diary; a few entries in, however, the reader happily goes along for the sake of absorbing such a vivid picture of Constance, her times, and her emotional tribulations.

A mysterious death at the auction house (complicated by the disappearance of some valuable pieces), and the darkening events in Constance’s past life, unfold together. Refreshingly, both narratives include old-fashioned romantic yearning but no sexual gymnastics. Complications abound; suspense builds. Wraith-like Constance appears as a guiding hand at opportune moments. The eventual resolutions to both threads are satisfying, but not simplistic.

Kaiser’s writing is well-crafted and careful (as befits a professional editor), but is neither pretentious nor affected. She develops the totally credible plots with the skill of a much more experienced novelist. Her many characters are deftly sketched, mainly through their actions and interactions and revealing snippets of their back-stories.

Virginia’s Ghost will readily engage your mind and probably your heart. It is not earth-shatteringly profound in either sphere, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a well-written tale and a rewarding read (ideally by a cozy evening fire) — filled with atmosphere and movement and interesting people. And mystery!

 

Canadian Imprints Volume II

Front_Cover_200Canadian Imprints Volume Two, An Anthology of Prose and Poems by Members of the Writers and Editors Network

Reviewing anthologies which don’t have a theme is quite difficult: each piece is an individual one and so there isn’t usually a way to connect the different pieces.

Canadian Imprints is one such anthology. It is the product of a group of writers from Toronto, Canada who band themselves together as Writer’s and Editors Network. They self-publish their work and this is their second collection, the production values of which are very good indeed, and the volume is very readable .

The first pieces that I encountered in Canadian Imprints were the Dedication by Celia Girouard; and Ben Antao’s ‘Love in Centre Island’. I’ll write about the Dedication later, but here I’ll concentrate only on the first part of the anthology which consists of prose pieces.

Antao’s story is the first one. I’ve read most of his work and these tend to focus on stories which are set either in Goa and India to which he belongs ethnically; or to the West, most usually Canada where he is a citizen now.

This story recounts a very emotional encounter between a 70-something Caucasian man who is desperately seeking companionship after the death of his beloved wife; and a woman of Chinese descent, much younger, but who is also looking for love but along with that, she wants to have a child as well.

It is a story which could easily have degenerated into the bad sex in fiction award material, but although the story has a very very physical feel and smell about it, it neither goes in this direction nor does it become sentimental, and indeed it has an ending which I thought was very well handled.

Canadian Imprints calls itself an ‘anthology of prose and poetry’ but I’d rather call the first part a miscellany of prose, for it consists of pieces of different kinds of prose and not just fiction. The second piece I read ‘The Olive Tree’ by Maurus Cappa, was more like a piece of journalism about a strange case which I won’t spoil for you by narrating.

Andrzej Derkowski’s ‘Devil’s Acorns’ is non-fictional prose about ‘minor incidents whose influences on the more important events (of world history) are not generally recognized’. For instance he tells about the First World War which started because of the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary might have been averted if his driver Gavrilo Princip had not taken a wrong turn. This series is planned as a book. There is another piece by Derkowski called ‘My Toronto: Looking Back’ which is a memoir of how the city has changed since WWII. Such pieces when they have a personal touch, as in this one, never go out of fashion.

At first I could not make out whether the next piece by Sally Dillon, The Soap Box Opera was biography or fiction. In fact the difference does not matter as Dillon the omniscient narrator describes the most important day in the life of Victor Von, the day when he won the Lions Club Soap Box Derby. It is only in the ending when imperceptibly the point of view turns first person, that we realize that it is a story. Maybe this story was saying as an aside that fact and fiction are siblings of the same mother.

There is no doubt that we are dealing with the imaginary when we read ‘A Conversation with my Shadow’ by Mostafa Dini. It begins, I quote:- My car stalls on the highway, right in the middle lane. I panic and get out. But I can’t walk. My feet are stuck to the pavement.

“I want my inheritance,” says my shadow, sucking my feet down.”

The following story ‘Adventure Under the Sea’ by Fran Edelstein, tries to emulate The Old Man and the Sea in a short story as Mack, a scuba diving instructor takes on a shark. I think it was competent and readable as an excercise, but it is difficult to not be reminded by the Master.

Augusto Pinto

Goa, India.

Pavitra in Paris

vinita

Pavitra in Paris

A review by Maria Pia Marchelletta

Vinita Kinra’s short story book “Pavitra in Paris” introduces the western reader to the intricacies of the world of arranged marriages in Indian culture. A world she knows too well.

Her prose has a hint of elegance with poetic flare. The character in “The Curse of a Nightingale” compares herself to to a “blooming daffodil.” The song is so brilliantly composed.

The emotions of her characters are vividly portrayed via effective usage of the simile. “By now, Ganesh was trembling like a wilted dry leaf as he replaced the flashlight fro m near the pillow of the empty bed,…” “Vinayakji’s eyes bulged like saucers…”

Vinita effectively portrays the turmoil experienced by her characters as she delves into their thought processes.  “I smiled through my slit eye from behind my burqa on contemplating the title. Masked.I despised the merciless cloak that caged by blooming beauty in its shapeless prison.” The usage of the character’s name Nargis as a masked nightingale clearly displays her angst with these conformities. The author’s cleverness with employing this symbolism strengthens her message to the reader.

In summary, Vinita is a talented fictional writer. This fine collection of short stories is a must read.

Maria Pia Marchelletta

Poet, writer, artist and President of the Writers and Editors Network

 

Telling the truth about Africa – Braz Menezes

MMfrontcover. jpg

Review of: More Matata — Love After the Mau Mau by Braz Menezes
by Judy Luis-Watson
jluiswatson55@gmail.com
 
If you are looking for a book to take you places, Braz
Menezes does not disappoint.  In *More Matata – Love After
the Mau Mau*, he documents and fictionalizes experiences
during the 1950s and early ’60s in Kenya.  And, for a change,
Kenyan Indians including Goans are not just peripheral to the
story, they are at the center of it.
 
Like Peter Nazareth who speaks the truth about Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda in *The General is Up*, Braz does not shy away from difficult topics.
Right away, in the Prologue, the reader is drawn into the 2008 Presidential election in the U.S.
 
Old friends Lando, and Saboti of mixed race like Obama,
connect across the oceans by telephone as they follow the
election.  Their excitement is palpable.  Even as time has
gone by, their love cut short because of racial barriers
still feels raw.
 
This love story provokes deeper thinking about cultural norms
and tradition.  Since their relationship must be kept secret,
their rendezvous offers excitement and hope. It also builds
compassion for people like them who dare to spread their
wings and fly. A feeling of dark clouds gathering adds to
the suspense.
 
The author uses clever humor to shine a light on the murky
shadows of Kenya during the Mau Mau period.  Lando thinks
about how people he knows have disappeared at the hands of
the colonial government and wonders, “Do the people in
government responsible for these crimes ever confess?  I
smile at the thought of the whole government lining up for
confessions….”
 
I was surprised to learn of the effect President Kennedy’s
assassination had in Kenya.  Braz Menezes explained that
people of every faith and race organized religious services,
and sports events were canceled.  The Voice of Kenya (VOK)
also canceled most programs and for the next two days relayed
news from BBC and VOA (Voice of America).  Because President
Kennedy “inspired hope and held so much promise,” the death
of the first U.S. Catholic president was devastating to the
Catholic Goan community in Kenya.
 
More Matata can stand on its own, but for the full experience
begin the adventure with Just Matata, the first book in the
trilogy.  I’m looking forward to the third book and hope Braz
plans to publish even more!
 
*More Matata* is available worldwide on Amazon and in ebook
(Kindle) and in Toronto, directly from the author
bmenezes@sympatico.ca
 

Judy Luis-Watson (jluiswatson55@gmail.com) is based in Bowie,
Maryland. Besides writing, she is into the blues, jazz and world rhythms. She
grew up in East Africa.

 

Pavitra in Paris

vinita

Pavitra in Paris

 

A review by Ben Antao

 

It is to the credit of Canadian culture that new literary voices continue to emerge from our multicultural mosaic. The latest voice I am privileged to record is that of Vinita Kinra, born in Milton, Ontario and educated in Jaipur and New Delhi (India), a writer of extraordinary talent.

     Her first collection of short stories titled Pavitra in Paris is a delightful exploration of caste, class, arranged marriages, dowry anxiety, love and whimsy set in western and northern India as well as in Vancouver, places she’s lived in and knows well enough to recreate in fiction.

     At least two of the 11 stories in the collection —Kamini and The Package Deal— cry out to be expanded to novel length.

     Kamini, an old maid at 31, is finally married off to a well-to-do owner of a tea estate in Darjeeling. While her husband is away on business, Kamini has an affair with Nikhil, her neighbour’s eighteen-year-old son. This story is enlivened with lavish personification and description evoking all the five senses to lay bare a Niagara of emotions.

    Here’s a sample of her descriptive prose about Darjeeling. “We will walk hand in hand through olive green forests of cedar, cypress and chestnut, in the gathering haze and dancing mist, and the dappled sunlight will dazzle our eyes by the confusion of light and shade. You will splash your soft feet in the crystal streams tumbling noisily from rocks to stones in picturesque hillsides.”

     The Package Deal is an inspired story, ingeniously plotted, of love and arranged marriages, really two for the price of one dowry. The author keeps the narrative flowing with apt analogies tempering the characters’ thinking processes.

     Vinita displays a wicked sense of form and style, a deep understanding of human nature, as she navigates the reader through the ups and downs of this captivating story—another novel in the making.

     The title story Pavitra in Paris is a humourous and entertaining narrative involving Pavitra, an untouchable servant and his journey with his masters from India to Paris. At the airport waiting area Pavitra left the need to rest after standing on his feet for long hours. “Looking around, he stretched his legs in front of him, letting out a muffled whine as he rested his bent back against vibrantly papered wall. The relief on his shrivelled face was similar to a bird flying out of its cage after long captivity, as he unstrapped his shoes and pressed his frosted feet lightly.”

     Splash! tells the story about a teacher teaching low caste students and his son falling in love with a low caste girl. The protagonist fakes suicide by drowning in a well to test his love for a Muslim woman. This story brings to light the caste prejudices present in the village of Bihar and its ghastly superstitions and horoscopes.

     The Perfect Match is a fairy tale story worthy of Bollywood creation. More than this, it sheds light on India’s new economy and the migration from the villages to urban centres for work and happiness, also a satire on arranged marriages in Canada among new immigrants.

     The 256-page book, price $17.95 US, is published by Greengardens Media of Toronto.

 

     Ben Antao, a Canadian Goan journalist and author, has published five novels, several short stories as well as two memoirs and two travelogues. He lives in Toronto. He can be reached at ben.antao@rogers.com