SKB Recommends (#1): Novels to transport you …

26 Aug

by Sanjee Bandara (http://skbsbooknook.wordpress.com/)

The following is a selection of novels that are guaranteed to transport you to far off places (and some not so far off places) and entertain you with laughter, tears, suspense, and awe. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have.

1. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (General Fiction)

Set in modern-day Japan, this is the story of a woman hired to be the housekeeper for a retired professor of mathematics, who suffers from a unique condition – due to brain damage caused by an accident, “the Professor” has a memory that lasts only eighty minutes. The story centers around the interactions between the Professor, the housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s son, Root as the professor shares the beauty of mathematical equations with them. This story is rich with quirky characters, beautiful language, and emotion.

2. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (General Fiction)

This novel, set in Gabarone, Botswana, is one in a series about the Mma Precious Ramotswe who features as the stories’ protagonist and main detective. The episodic novels are as much about the adventures and foibles of different characters as they are about solving mysteries. Each book in the series follows on from the previous book. This first book is one I enjoyed the most because from the first page, the writing forces you to slow down and lose yourself in the unhurried world of Gabarone and Mma Ramotswe’s adventures. This is not one to read quickly, but to savor and enjoy. There’s also an amazing HBO series of these novels, but I recommend that you read the books before watching the series.

3. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (General Fiction)

Set in nineteenth century China the story is told by an eighty year old Lily, who reminisces about her life and friendship with her best friend Snow Flower. In rural Hunan province, Lily and her best friend Snow Flower are a laotong pairwhose relationship is more close than a husband and wife’s. Lily’s aunt describes a laotong match this way: “‘A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose — to have sons.’” The two girls experience the painful process of foot-binding at the same time, and write letters to one another on a fan with Nü Shu, a secret phonetic form of ‘women’s writing.’ In addition to the language itself, the young women learn Nü Shu songs and stories. Both friends are born under the sign of the Horse, but they are quite different. Lily is practical, her feet firmly set on the ground, while Snow Flower attempts to fly over the constrictions of women’s lives in the 19th century in order to be free. Their lives differ as well. Although Lily comes from a family of relatively low station, her feet are considered beautiful and play a role in her marriage into the most powerful family in the region. Lily is later known as Lady Lu, the region’s most influential woman and a mother to four healthy children (three sons and one daughter). Although Snow Flower comes from a formerly prosperous family, she is not so fortunate. She marries a butcher, culturally considered the lowest of professions, and has a miserable life filled with children dying and beatings at the hand of her husband. An absolutely beautiful story written with an elegant touch, this novel made me laugh, cry out in pain, sob in despair, and ultimately smile in understanding and acceptance. Read the book before you watch the film!

4. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One) by Patrick Rothfuss (Fantasy)

The story begins in the backwater town of Newarre, introducing the innkeeper Kote and his assistant Bast. The Inn is sparsely used, and widespread troubles from an ongoing war have further reduced travelers passing through the small town. It is revealed that Kote is actually the legendary hero Kvothe in hiding. Kvothe has a reputation as an unequaled swordfighter, magician and musician, who among other things is rumored to have killed a king and is somehow responsible for the war. His assistant and student Bast is a prince from the mystical Fae, magical creatures of great beauty but vulnerable to iron. Kvothe saves Chronicler, a travelling scribe, from spider-like creatures called Scrael. Chronicler recognizes him as Kvothe and asks to record his story. Kvothe initially refuses but eventually gives in, to tell the truth about the events that made him a legend. He tells Chronicler that this will take three days (corresponding to the planned trilogy of novels). I fell in love with the liquid, elegant, poetic language of this story – it is beautiful to read. The story is well developed and the sequel is a must read, as well!

5. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin (Chick-Lit)

The novel centers around the protagonist and narrator, Rachel White, a thirty-year-old single woman who is a consummate good-girl. She and Darcy Rhone have been best friends since childhood, and hard-working Rachel is often in the shadow of flashy, sometimes selfish Darcy. Then, after a night of drinking on Rachel’s thirtieth birthday, she sleeps with Darcy’s fiance, Dex. After this turns into an affair, Rachel explores the meaning of friendship, true love, and ethics. I’m not a huge fan of ‘Chick-Lit’, but this is one that I did enjoy immensely. While it’s a quick read, the questions posed by the story are interesting and thought provoking. Make sure to read the book first before checking out the film!

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