Thursday, June 23, 2022


I've not been on the computer much, preferring to sit on the porch to read or write, listen to the birds and squirrels, join their chorus, pick fresh tomatoes, preserve what we cannot consume right away (our kitchen counter has many jars in various states of fermentation), go on walks. Now that it's gotten too hot in the afternoons, I'm back at my desk. We'll start going to the beach in the evenings (taking cues from our kids). But here's a summary of the outstanding books I read in May and June.

On our train trip to DC I read Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden. It was a delight; they capture the essence of an idyllic childhood in India, full of joy and wonder, even if there are a thousands dangers from cobras to rabid dogs. The book begins with the girls (aged 6 and 7 yrs) in care of spinster aunts in England and there's such a contrast with the strict upbringing there and the freedom they experience when they join their parents, two younger sisters, and a house full of servants in East Bengal (now Pakistan) at the start of WWI. They write with great sensitivity and love for the Indian people and I loved that the book doesn't impose adult sensibilities upon their child-selves. They evoked so many of my own childhood memories, from making up games to reciting poetry to adults. Their voices blend beautifully--they were so close and yet at the very end, I could feel that abrupt end of childhood and their return to England five years later. But India was their home--both Jon and Rumer returned as adults to live and write there. If you wish to make a visit to India, read this book.

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford is based on a fascinating premise--epigenetics--that is, inheritance of traumas from our ancestors through modification of our genes. I don't doubt it, simply from observing families. I enjoyed the stories of different generations of women descended from the first Chinese woman in the US. Ford jumps back and forth in time to narrate their stories but still it fell a little flat for me because there was so much trauma and no sense of any real healing. What about the blessings? Shouldn't they also carry over? I didn't connect deeply with any of them. How does one break the cycle of trauma? In the book, there is an experimental treatment but I do not know if it's something one ought to do even if one could--messing with our genetic makeup and brain can have unforeseen consequences. Better to stick to natural remedies. Much food for thought in this book. In our own family, I am very deliberate and intentional about not perpetuating familiar traumas, though I am more like my mother than not. I invoke the Blood of Christ for healing, for all generations, past, present and future. 


The Perfect Rock by Sarah Nobel was such a cute picture book with darling illustrations of otters. Sibling otters fight over who gets to keep the perfect rock for the shellfish feast.

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun is a wordless story of an Asian child who goes from the city to the countryside and marvels at the natural beauty. It's a book that invites contemplation.

Mama: A World of Mothers and Motherhood by Helene Delforge and Quentin Greban has beautiful portraits of mothers and their children in all their joys and sorrows accompanied by lovely poems. A book to counter all the terrible books that celebrate the destruction of the sacred bond between mother and child.  

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey is such a beautiful meditation on life's important questions. I loved the line art and calligraphy--it's amazing what a talented artist can do with pen and ink.

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain is a lovely book that examines its role in our lives and being a Catholic, I kept nodding my head, yes, yes, yes, you can transform loss and sorrow into art, unite it to Christ's suffering, make it count and no, no, no, you needn't be an agnostic because this longing is pointing you to God, He's with us, practice being in His Presence. You have a God-shaped hole in your heart that only He can fill. I pray she will take that leap of faith...He will catch her. A great follow-up to Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher is a reminder that totalitarianism is on the rise. It's an excellent overview of what we must do to resist--from always choosing to live truthfully to strengthening our families and communities and to be willing to suffer for the faith. Covid was a test to see how quickly we'd surrender our freedoms in the name of medical safety and boy did we pass with flying colors. Not good. More tyranny is on the way. My motto is Live Not in Fear. Only have fear of the Lord.    

Paths of Resistance: The Art and Craft of the Political Novel edited by William Zinsser is a collection of thought-provoking essays and lectures and gave me much food for thought for writing my own political novel.  

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch is such an important book for us creatives (and we're all creative!) because it encourages us to return to the natural state of free play. Even gaining technique is part of free play. I've been listening to more classical Indian music (a clip of Kaushiki Chakraborty singing with her son) marveling at the ease with which they improvise. It's been about a year since we've started singing the complex Graduals and Alleluias instead of the simple psalm tones. The melismatic chants have a similar quality to Indian classical music and unfortunately we're nowhere close to singing with ease. We can follow notes and there can be expressive moments but nowhere close to how the monks sound, heavenly. I spoke to one of the Benedictine monks of Norcia several years ago when they visited our parish and he said it takes about a decade to chant well. And they pray/sing seven times a day. They probably achieve their 10,000 hrs in 5 yrs. Time for more play and practice. As the choreographer and dancer Garth Fagan said, "Discipline is Freedom." Indeed. It is through discipline and mastery of the arts that one can truly express what's in the heart.

What are you reading? What are you making? What are you practicing? I hope you have a lovely summer making art.


Mirka Breen said...

An idyllic childhood in India is just so tempting to dive into. So many novels are about traumatic childhoods.
And your photos refresh, revive and replenish the parched soul.

Vijaya said...

Thank you Mirka. I agree that the focus on trauma can get really old, when there's nothing to temper it. You will love TWO.

Haddock said...

I have to see ifI can lay my hands on Two Under the Indian Sun........ sounds interesting.

Vijaya said...

Haddock, I got a used copy of TWO. Bookfinder is a great resource for finding all kinds of books, whether new, used, out of print. Good luck!