Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘family’

The Kindness of Strangers

My Forgotten Path Home
41KTXR9-obLA Novel by Tim I Gurung
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

This novel is all about the 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed over 8000 people and injured over 20,000, and, it has very little to do with the earthquake. Mr. Gurung dedicates My Forgotten Path Home to the dead and survivor’s of the quake in the acknowledgments, and the story revolves around May Andrelina Applehouse, who is found in the rubble by an Australian couple, but the essence of the story is about Nepal, its people, and finding a “place” called home.

When May returns to Nepal at age 27, for the first time since leaving at age 3, she discovers that it is not what she had imagined, and finding her birth parents will be much more difficult than she had anticipated. Helping her in her search are Inspector Raj Komartamu and his assistant, Officer Mangale Magar. Even though she is not familiar with anyone or anything, May feels like she is “at home”. The journey begins in Kathmandu (the capital), and then extends to the countryside.

May is amazed with the beauty outside the city. “The morning fogs around the valley had not dissipated, cobwebs of gossamer and the nearby jungle were visible, and birds were still reluctant to fly away from their warm nest.” With the help of her new friends (Raj and Mangale) May looks near and far for her parents, and eventually makes a decision which brings her even closer to the Nepalese and her understanding of what life is like for those in the capital and farming the land in small villages.

My Forgotten Path Home is similar, in some respects, to the storyline for the wonderful film Lion, in which a young orphaned boy in India is adopted by an Australian couple, and then returns as an adult to try to find his mother. Mr. Gurung’s story however, takes place almost entirely in Nepal and feels almost like a personal memoir, though it is not in the least. My favorite aspect of this tale is the genuine kindness and gentleness of all those involved. Everyone treats one another as family, whether they are related biologically or not. This is a novel written with heart, that touches the heart.

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Enough Already

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You’re Perfect the Way You Are.
Written by Richard Nelson
Illustrated by Evgenia Dolotovskaia.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Here is a good book with a vital message. Not only are the words used for this age group (4 and up) perfectly maintained throughout the story, but the illustrations also match on every page. Some kids books are either too wordy, and complicated, or so simple, as to be insulting. You’re Perfect the Way You Are found the perfect balance.

The young girl of the story asks her mother, father, brother, grandpa, grandma, and uncle, if various parts of her body are alright (hair, hands, nose, etc.). Unlike real life, they are all in unison and give her the same positive message. “Are my hands too small?” I asked my Grandma while she helped wash them for dinner. She just smiled and replied, “No honey. You’re perfect the way you are.”

Children hear what we say about ourselves (and others). They can also sense, even more deeply, what we are feeling when we say something. A mother worried about “looking good enough”, or a father wondering if he’s “gained too much weight”, can have a a big, and often long-lasting, effect on their children’s sense of themselves as well.

Young children, adolescents (and adults), often believe they “aren’t good enough”, and spend lots of money, time, and energy to try to be different. This is usually unconscious and habitual. It is frequently ingrained in our conditioning, and thoughts. You’re Perfect the Way You Are is a good reminder, and important story, to remind us all that we ARE ENOUGH just as we are.

Achin’ for Home

31bo-JcppuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Over the Pass and Other Stories by Susan Mary Malone. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

You can tell from the get go that this author is a native Texan. It ebbs from her stories like a hot wind in hell blowing across east Texas. This is indeed good news, as Over the Pass and Other Stories is better than a good bowl of panhandle chili (without the side effects). The leads in these tales are tough, hard-working, home-grown people from Texas, Montana, and Kansas.

The first story (Winter’s Prey) describes the feelings of Julie, as she poses before her sculpture husband Troy. “She is naked – not under his hands but before his stare.” Descent follows Julie and Troy on a trip through Montana. Over the Pass continues glimpses into their relationship with Julie realizing. “On a backroad byway between Idaho and Montana, through the Red Rocks Wildlife Refuge, I lost the feeling. My heart got out and took a hike and we were another day down the road before I realized it was gone.”

Other stories in this collection include a rodeo cowboy (The Demon On the End of the Rope); a father and son feeding wrestlers at a yearly retreat (Red Turns to Green); and Foster and Callie, who are in a long distance relationship, reluctantly attending a wedding officiated by Pastor Brown.

Some of my favorite lines are from Cowboys Over Ladies, when old Jim tells Sara, who he’s mentored for over 20 years, “You’re a achin’ for home.” He’d nick his chest with a gnarled fist. “That place inside ya. The one you boxed away a long time ago. So you put the nostalgia on like a blanket of a mornin’ to keep out the chill.” Another is from Two Hundred Miles to Dumas, “Mom glared hard at her, all the crow’s feet tying up around her eyes and making her look more ancient than Grandma, who was older than west Texas dirt.”

Ms. Malone’s understanding, and description, of place and people is spot on – tough, beautiful, barren, and spacious. Every story stands on its own, even though the first three have the same characters. Over the Pass and Other Stories will remind you of folks you know if you grew up in that area of the world, or make you think you’re one of the family, even if you’ve never stepped foot in that part of the country. These stories will stick to you like sweat inside a Texan’s jeans.

A Search for Family

51LrMG-G4QL._SY346_A Dangerous Secret by Peter Martin
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

There are so many things to like about this story. It is well written, nicely edited, and engrossing from beginning to end. A Dangerous Secret turned out to be somewhat what I expected (from the description) and a lot that I didn’t.

The beginning finds Garry dealing with the loss of his mother. The grief he experiences is very true to life and expressed with great depth and understanding. What he learns just before she dies however, puts the wheels of the story into motion, and the search that continues from that day on.

I don’t keep reading a novel very long if I don’t in some way identify with, or have some empathy for, the main characters. That was not a problem in this story. Garry, his wife Delia (Deel), and their family (Cassie, Tom, Chris, Adam), are not only likable, but also very believable.

A Dangerous Secret is a well paced story, which gives just enough detail for each scene, without lingering too long either. It is as much a search for family, belonging, and understanding, as it is a mystery, genealogical exploration, and a wee bit of horror. Without giving anything away, there are shades of the film Get Out, though not to the same extent as the movie.

As is obvious, I liked A Dangerous Secret. It took twists and turns that I hadn’t expected, kept me fully engaged throughout, and gave me a new appreciation for this genre of mystery and suspense.

The Art of Thinking

51M7PrIvLmL._SY346_Who Are We: Seeing Ourselves Through the Eyes of One Another by Hussam Atef Elkhatib, Ph.D. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

How we think about experiences, places, or situations, and what we are aware of when and while we do, provides infinite possibilities to see ourselves and connect with others, by seeing their perspective and conditioning. Who Are We looks closely at practically every thing in life that can, and does, contribute to and shapes, who we are, how we see the world, and why we react the way to do to what is before us. Dr. Elkhatib offers the means with which we may use this awareness to, “Guide our vision through the way we see things.”

Though many of the topics may seem obvious at first, I have never seen such an extensive collection, and discussion, of all the factors which shape who we are, and how we behave, in one place. Each area is looked at closely with short essay-type sections. To give an overview of what is offered, here are some of the chapters that are included: 1) When You Were Born 2) Where You Were Born 3) The Control We have over What 8) How We Are 11) The Reason Behind Everything 13) The Art of Thinking 18) Internal Influences 20) Our Perceptions 24) What We Believe 26) Seeing the Big Picture.

Here is an example of some of the thoughts within. Nothing new, but said simply and with insightful precision.

Seeing things the way they are enables us to accept reality and deal with it. It contributes to our peace of mind.

People are eventually the same. Some of the things they can control while other things they have no control over.

We are more alike than we are different, though it is in observing and studying the differences, and how our environment, home, country, beliefs, conditioning, thoughts, and actions create who we are, that we begin to see the basic humanity that runs through us all. When our minds are open, and we look at our thoughts, it provides the opportunity to also see ourselves through the eyes of one another and discover that who we are is always in relation to other people, things, and circumstances. Take the time to ask the question, and open the pages of Who Are We.

 

Say It Outloud

51TNQTUdZkLThe Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name – Short Stories by Fiza Pathan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Confession time. When I saw that this collection of short stories was over 450 pages long, I planned to skim over them and write a brief overview. After reading the first one, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name, I was hooked and ended up reading each story from start to finish. They are all excellent, different and well written. They take place in different countries (India, Canada, United States, Iran, Syria, un-named South American country, Thailand, and the United Kingdom). What they all have in common is the portrayal of someone who is not part of the stereotyped heterosexual majority.

Each person must deal with the prejudice, religious intolerance, and/or ignorance, of their family, community, friends, culture, and/or government. Oscar Wilde quotes are also part of many of the stories, and match each perfectly. Each tale in The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name begins with the primary characters name as the first word of the story, thus speaking there name out loud, and validating who they are.

Sreekanth declares his love for another man to his father. Stanford’s father is outraged when he finds out who his son is friends with. Mrs. Almeida has to deal with her ex-principal who is outraged when she hears that one of her children was born biologically a boy and changed to a girl. Salman secretly lives with his boyfriend and wife, fearing the ISIS leaders will discover them at any time and put them to death. Melody discovers that she doesn’t fit into the sexual stereotype she expected. Five-year-old Ken wants to be Wonder Woman, and starts to take drastic measures to make it so, much to the dismay of his parents.

Another confession. Being the parent of a daughter who married her long-time girlfriend, a son who married another man, and some long-time friends who are transgender, as well as living in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 40 years, made it difficult to accept all of the violence, hatred, and mis-understanding portrayed in these stories. The longer I read however, the more I realized how much of a bubble I’m in, and that many parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world still have intense prejudice, fear, and anger, towards people who are gay, lesbian, transgender, born intersex, pansexual, bi-sexual, transvestite, or anything that is not the “norm”.

It is sad, but vital, that The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name was written. Giving a voice to those who cannot speak, who are shunned, dismissed, minimized, degraded, chided, threatened, misunderstood, and sometimes killed, just for being themselves, is proudly proclaimed with each tale. Though this is a work of fiction, many of the events, and reactions within this collection have, and are, taking place throughout the world. Ms. Pathan not only understands these realities, but is also able to share them with splendid prose, insight, and dramatic effect. It is one thing to aware of others lives, and another to be able to write about them so eloquently.

Each story in Ms. Pathan’s collection of shorts could be part of its own novella, but they stand on there own just as they are. The theme of acceptance, being true to oneself, and the possibility for change, is the constant between them all. As Oscar Wilde states so knowingly, On an occasion of this kind, it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.

Happy Family, Happy Cats

51WoCiuudlLThe Happy Cat’s Detective by Alex Mahon
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

The Happy Cat’s Detective is a delightful story combing a budding romance, close family escapades, and trying to figure out why, and who, stole Mrs. Casanova’s cat, Fetish. The tale begins in Canada, but takes place primarily in the small town of Lleida, outside Barcelona, Spain.

Told in the first person, by Christina Solans Sentis, we hear about another volunteer veterinarian she meets in the forests of Canada, Alex. They fall for one another and he promises to visit her upon her return to Spain. Christina fails to inform her mother, or her mother’s friends, about Alex upon her return home. This fact eventually comes out, but none too soon.

It is the relationship between Christina, her mother (Irene), and her mother’s close friends since childhood (Laia and Ingrid) that steal the show. They all move in together in the country and start a cat sanctuary they call The Happy Cat’s Home. It isn’t long until Christina is asked to search for a missing cat (and get paid for it), that she becomes the books title.

I really enjoyed The Happy Cat’s Detective. The sense of familiarity between Christina and her mother, and between her mother and her friends, is heart-warming, funny, and authentic. Their joking around, memories, and shenanigans, make them seem much younger than their years. Nobody is perfect, yet they enjoy one another’s company and always have each other’s back.

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