Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘son’

Staring at the Door

Yasodhara: A Novel About the Buddha’s Wife by Vanessa R. Sasson.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51I1VkEDTUL._SY346_The name “Yasodhara” means. “She who is full of splendor.” This novel, about the woman who became known as Buddha’s wife, is as splendid as the person on whom it is based. The story is told in the first person, with Yasodhara telling her own tale. She describes her birth, early childhood, friendship with her cousin (Siddhattha) and other members of the royal family, as her father’s brother is the king (Suddhodana). It takes place in what is now known as Nepal, or northern India.

Ms. Sasson doesn’t pretend that everything in the book is factual and does a wonderful job in the afterward informing readers’ about what is her imagination, and what is based on historical records, or writings, in each chapter. There is actually very little known about Yasodhara, other than some fables, and stories, which were written down in Sanskrit and Pali at least 500 years after she lived. It is believed that she and Siddhattha were born on the same day, married at age sixteen, and were together twelve years before having a son (Rahula). It was the day following their son’s birth, that Siddhartha left Yasodhara, and everything with palace life, to search for the meaning to life.

Here is a touching excerpt from that time in the story.

“I always prided myself on being strong. I might have had a temper, but I managed despite it. I could make my way across any hurdle like a well-trained athlete. I never knew myself in any other way. Until, that is, I found myself alone in my room, nursing a newborn while I stared at the door.

Sidhattha and I had been together for such a long time. Our togetherness had always seemed timeless to me, as though it had been threaded from past lives into this one. We were not just husband and wife. We were everything to each other.

Or at least he was everything to me.

I could not understand why he walked away, so I stared at the door, day after days, wondering if it would ever open again. I lay on my bed, my baby beside me, utterly oblivious to his little cries.”

Yasodhara is an excellent contribution to literature about those that surrounded the man known as Gotama, The Buddha. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in, and historical nonfiction works about, Yasodhara, as well as several fictional accounts. Ms. Sasson has studied and taught Buddhism for a number of years, as well as now written this fictional version, which is well told. The characters come to life and after a short time begin to feel like family.

If you enjoy Yasodhara, you may also be interested in another work of fiction about her life, which is called Buddha’s Wife. Ms. Sasson’s story focuses on the childhood and married life of Yasodhara, whereas, Buddha’s Wife, concerns itself with her life as a nun and the memories she has of her husband (now The Buddha), as well as what she has learned about intimacy, family, and community. It also mixes fact and fiction.

Rites of Passage

41uBGeLbd8L._SY346_Midnight and Holding by Joyce DeBacco.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Midnight and Holding is a lovely collection of stories that include a woman daydreaming about the past, which helps her see the present clearly (Rubies and Other Gems); a shed which brings together a husband and wife (The Shed); a carefree youth who awakens dreams and desires of an older woman (Rainbow Years); a humorous account of a wife’s suggestion being taken to extremes (Mad Dogs and Fisherman); a parent’s rite of passage (Midnight and Holding); and a woman who buys her husband a new suit for his last big occasion (Harvey’s New Suit).

Ms. DeBacco has a wonderful sense of home, place, family, marriage, and a life of raising children. Themes of loss, living for others, and losing one’s self, run throughout these tales. In Midnight and Holding a mother speaks about waking up in the middle of the night to a quiet house, once the children are gone away to college. “It’s the middle of the night and, unable to sleep, I wander through the quiet house. Unshackled from the invisible chains tethering me between laundry room and kitchen, I now seek to busy myself with something, anything to keep my mind from dwelling on their absence. Reluctantly, I strip the beds on which they’d slept, my fingers pausing over the deep indentations in the pillows. The neatness of their naked dressers and floors assaults my eyes.”

It is a rare writer that can take the ordinary, and everyday family life, and stretch it just enough to be familiar, yet daring and different from our daily routines and expectations. The author of Midnight and Holding has this ability – the ability to nurture reality, blur the lines and witness characters gaining insight and/or having a transformative experience in the process. At first glance, this collection of stories is about the mundane, but upon reading it becomes clear that each one is a unique creation. They feel authentic and take one to the core of time passing, and the impact those in our lives have upon us.

A Midwife’s Joys & Sorrows

Born for Life: A Midwife’s Story by Julie Watson.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41H1LHEanXL._SY346_Being that Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, is my favorite series on television, I was excited to discover this autobiography by New Zealand nurse-midwife Julie Watson. Born for Life is an intimate and honest portrait of the life Ms. Watson has led (so far), and her interest in nursing, which was inflamed when she first read about Florence Nightengale as a schoolgirl. The effects of birth, and having children, have an overwhelming impact on the author, in her own family, as well as her chosen profession.

Julie meets her future husband, Barry, at a young age (in 1968) and is married at 17. Four years later she has her first child (Kelvin). During the pregnancy she develops preeclampsia and must be on bedrest. “Preeclampsia is a condition that occur during pregnancy when a woman’s blood pressure rises sharply.” She first comes across the condition at work when it has devastating effects on a patient. “All these thoughts were going on in my mind. I never thought something like this could happen when having a baby. It never occurred to me that sometimes things can go wrong. Little did I know that preeclampsia was going to have a devastating effect on my own life that would impact me for years.” The impact she is referring to is the death of her second child, Shelley Anne Watson, who lived only a short time after her birth.

After having more children, and going back to school to become a licensed nurse, Ms. Watson had several other children (Angela Mary) and much later, another daughter (Elizabeth Jane). Not only does she have to deal with preeclampsia and bedrest once again, for both these pregnancies, but she also discovers that both her daughter’s have Albinism, which is a congenital disorder that results in the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. It can also effect sight, which it does with her children.

The author speaks candidly about her periods of “depression, loneliness, and self-doubt”, which she struggled with after the death of Shelley Ann, and at other periods in her life. She describes the wonderful support she had (and has) from her spouse, family, and friends, and how they all came through to help, especially when she has a stroke in mid-life (from which she recovers). She also talks about starting to attend church, and the comfort prayer, and belief begins to give her. It is this faith that sustains her.

Though this review may sound as if this memoir is just about struggles, and sadness, Born for Life is anything but. Along with the writer’s personal ups and downs, she provides an abundance of details and tales, about different mothers, families, and situations in which she played a vital role in assisting in joyful and healthy deliveries. By far, the majority of this autobiography tells the stories of brave women giving birth, who are surrounded with caring and knowledgable midwives, such as Ms. Watson. It was an honor to read.

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.

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.

Your Son Can’t Hear

61Q3NRycOJLA Mother’s Heart: Memoir of a Special Needs Parent by Eichin Chang-Lim. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A clear-sighted, perfectly weighted memoir with balance of experience, insight, and observation. A Mother’s Heart doesn’t stray into un-associated material, and stays right on track, as Ms. Chang-Lim explores what it was like raising their son, Teddy, who is severely hearing-impaired. From his first days as a baby, up through the present (with Teddy now in his 20s), the author conveys the joys, frustrations, and what she has learned being the parent to her son, and her daughter (Victoria).

Upon hearing that her son couldn’t hear, the author writes, “Although the diagnoses was not a surprise, I was still sad and angry. I was angry that the whole universe did not show a shred of remorse for my son’s deafness. I was angry that my husband seemed so calm and in control. I was angry that I blamed myself for my son’s disability.” What she discovers is that her son’s hearing loss was a result of a disease called Waaredenberg Syndrome, though didn’t help much knowing when it came to his educational and social adjustments.

Most everything a parent of a hearing-impaired, or deaf, child needs to know, is either discussed, or mentioned in these pages. Chapter include headings such as, It’s Okay to Cry; A Support System Is Crucial; Early Intervention; Spouse Communication; Motherhood vs. Career; and Choosing the Right Special Education Placement. None of these issues are over-dramatized, or indulged in, nor are they skimmed or minimized. There is just the right amount of honesty, information, and personal frustration shared for readers to easily relate.

Each chapter begins with a perfect quote, such as E.M. Foster’s, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, to have the life that is waiting for us.” Ms. Chang-Lim didn’t plan on having to confront the realities of having a hearing-impaired child, but she has done so with grit and grace. An especially helpful portion is a segment her daughter writes about growing up with her brother Teddy, and how the attention he got effected her, and their relationship as siblings. Whether you have s child with special needs, or not, A Mother’s Heart speaks volumes for mothers and fathers everywhere.

Water Under the Bridge

51JYwz0aZ4L._SY346_The Flowers Need Watering by Marcus Lopés
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

This story was not at all what I thought it was, and I’m not sure what I thought it was before reading it. Either way, it turned out to be a real treat. The title alone is worth the price. In essence, The Flowers Need Watering is a love story that involves boy meets boy, falls in love, then moves away and loses boy. Then, boy returns, they meet again, and… let’s just say there is a lot of water under the bridge.

The primary characters are Mateo, his partner Simon, and Liam. All of there family and friends (Melinda, Zane, and others) are intricately involved and come together with the death of Mateo’s father. There is also a long-term conflict with Mateo and his family, that involve a painful split when he was a young man. The tension between Liam and his father, and especially with his religious mother (Doris), are perfectly portrayed and explain why Liam is estranged.

The Flowers Need Watering feels real, which speaks volumes for the authors insightful writing. The story is both ordinary, and extraordinary. It is the understanding of human behavior, and our need to love and be loved, that shines throughout this tale of love lost and found, though not found as one may expect. This reads like a good romance, interspersed with family drama, and a big dose of realism and undercurrents of unspoken sorrows and events. Recommend picking this up when you can, and anything else the author writes in the future.

Tag Cloud