Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand
Gioconda Belli's retelling of the Adam and Eve story begins, as it should, in the Garden. Adam and Eve suddenly are - 'From not being to being conscious that he was.' As they begin to explore their idyllic world, they are aware of the Other, a mysterious being who seems to have some stake in their existence. Adam knows the Other's name is Elokim, and hears the Other speak to him on occasion. They also make the acquaintance of the Serpent, a cryptic being who answers more of their questions than the Other. They soon find out, though, that the Serpent may not necessarily be their friend.Staying true to the major events in the narrative, Belli's Eve eats the forbidden fruit, and gives it to Adam, who also eats. The couple is expelled from the Garden, they make their first clothing, kill their first food, and bear their first children. To many readers who cherish the Biblical story, however, this Adam and Eve may be almost unrecognizable.In her Author's Note, Belli talks about discovering the variations on the Adam and Eve tale found in ancient texts such as the Nag Hammadi library and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Drawing inspiration from these and other sources, Belli paints a picture of Eve and Adam much different from the one we are used to reading. Eve is curious, adventurous, and quick-witted, and actively seeks answers to many difficult questions. Adam is more cautious, protective, but driven by his love for Eve, and his desire not to be alone. God, in the form of the Other, is distant and cold, seeming to care little about the creatures he chose to make.Gioconda Belli is a poet, and that is obvious throughout the novel. Her words are incredibly beautiful, and even in translation her narrative sings. Her ideas about the nature of God, good, and evil, are fascinating, and make the well-known story come alive in new and unique ways. While her twisting of the traditional narrative will inevitably bother some readers, Infinity in the Palm of her Hand is an excellent addition to the shelves for those who enjoy biblical retellings.
Bharati Mukherjee Jasmine
When Jasmine is suddenly widowed at seventeen, she seems fated to a life of quiet isolation in the small Indian village where she was born. But the force of Jasmine's desires propels her explosively into a larger, more dangerous, and ultimately more life-giving world. In just a few years, Jasmine becomes Jane Ripplemeyer, happily pregnant by a middle-aged Iowa banker and the adoptive mother of a Vietnamese refugee.
Jasmine's metamorphosis, with its shocking upheavals and its slow evolutionary steps, illuminates the making of an American mind; but even more powerfully, her story depicts the shifting contours of an America being transformed by her and others like her — our new neighbors, friends, and lovers. In Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee has created a heroine as exotic and unexpected as the many worlds in which she lives.
Initially, I thought this was going to be another novel to put in my Sunday Shorts post of books that didn't really capture my imagination. However, when I realized I was still thinking about it several days later, I decided maybe it deserved a post of its own after all.
This is, upon first glance, a novel about the immigrant experience in America. Jasmine, and her adopted son, Du, both experience the ups and downs of navigating a new world. The story jumps around in time a bit, so it can be confusing until you are able to figure out exactly what the timeline is. Jasmine's observations about the strange and difficult ways of Americans are funny and pointed, often uncomfortably observant about the life her new country leads:
"In America, nothing lasts. I can say that now and it doesn't shock me, but I think it was the hardest lesson of all for me to learn. We arrive so eager to learn, to adjust, to participate, only to find the monuments are plastic, agreements are annulled. Nothing is forever, nothing is so terrible, or so wonderful, that it won't disintigrate."
She sees the irony of people telling her she fits in - that she is "doing well" - because well, as she is aware, is all a matter of perspective:
"At school they say Du's doing so well, isn't he, considering. Considering what? I want to say. Considering that he has lived through five or six languages, five or six countries, two or three centuries of history; has seen his county, city, and family butchered, bargained with pirates and bureaucrats, eaten filth in order to stay alive; that he has survived every degredation known to this century, considering all those liabilities, isn't is amazing that he can read a Condensed and Simplified for Modern Students edition of A Tale of Two Cities?"But deeper than that, this is a novel about naming your own destiny. Jyoti becomes Jasmine when she stows away to America, and then Jase when she lives with the ultra-cool New York couple, and then Jane when she moves to Iowa. Each of these names brings a shift in personality, and the power of naming is subtly examined with each shift. I think part of the reason I wasn't sure I liked the novel initially is because I don't think I like the choice she ultimately makes, and the persona she finally chooses. Of course, that eventually makes me realize exactly how real Jasmine is to me - real enough that I want to read another chapter, or five, to see if that choice actually does end up being the right one.It's an interesting novel - not high adventure, but a great deal to think about. It may not be my favorite of the year, but I'm certainly glad I read it.
Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajanipublished 9/08384 pagesSynopsis from publisher:Meet three women who are as different as could be—at least that’s what they think—and the men who’ve turned their lives upside down as their paths collide in sizzling, sexy Miami. . . .Ranya is a modern-day princess—brought up behind the gilded walls of Saudi Arabian high society and winner of the dream husband sweepstakes . . . until said husband turns out to be more interested in Paolo, the interior-decorator-cum-underwear-model, than in his virginal new wife.Smart, independent, but painfully shy, Zahra has managed to escape her impoverished Palestinian roots to carve out a life of comfort. But she can’t reveal her secrets to the man she adores or shake off the fear that she doesn’t deserve any of it. She also can’t shake the fear that if she holds on to anything—or anyone—too dearly, they will be taken away in the blink of a kohl-lined eye.Rio has risen above the slums of her native Honduras—not to mention the jeers of her none too supportive family—to become editor in chief of Suéltate magazine, the hottest Latina-targeted glossy in town, and this in spite of Georges Mallouk, her hunky-yet-clueless boss, and in spite of Rio’s totally wrong but oh-so-sinfully-right affair with the boss’s delicious but despicable younger brother, Joe.In this city of fast cars, sleek clubs, and unapologetic superficiality, Ranya, Zahra, and Rio wrestle with the ties that bind them to their difficult pasts, and it just might be time for them to cut loose. . . .My thoughts:I'm not sure I've read a book that was this much fun in a long time. Things are heading toward summer in my neck of the woods (I say heading, because we've had a pretty gray and gloomy week, but I still have hope), and Cutting Loose just FELT like a summer book. It's set mainly in sunny Miami, and has a light, breezy tone that would make it perfect "sitting in the sun with a tropical drink in your hand" fare.Dajani's three main characters take turns narrating the novel, and each voice is distinct and developed. I felt an immediate empathy with both Ranya and Zahra - each was facing issues I could completely relate to, and it made me feel a connection to the characters right away. Rio took a little bit longer to click with me, but I came to appreciate her strength and drive, and by the end of the novel was rooting for her as well.When I say the novel is fun and light, I don't want to imply that it is lacking in depth or emotion. All three women have serious obstacles to face - from money and job situations to difficult family and personal relationship issues, each has to face up to their past and decide which path to take, and how to grasp happiness for themselves. It was this honest journey for each of her characters that kept me turning pages, eager to find out what happened next.I completely enjoyed this novel. It would make a perfect beach or vacation read! It does contain adult language and situations, so if that bothers you, you might want to steer clear of this one. However, if you are looking for a novel that goes deeper than the usual chick-lit fare, but still retains the fun and romance, I would definitely recommend you pick up this book.