Never a Hero to Me by Tracy Black

Tracy Black is the pseudonym for the author who writes about her childhood of abuse. Tracy was just 5 years old when her mother got hospitalized and her father uses the opportunity to abuse her.

She was told to be the ‘woman of the house’ because her mother was not around. She is made to do the housework, and subjected to sexual abuse by her father. Hers was a dysfunctional family, with no real affection between her mother and father. Her mother seemed unconnected with her daughter, while she was extremely protective towards her older son. Whatever Tracy did was wrong in her mother’s eyes. Approaching her mother with what her father was doing to her was out of question.

She remarks how even her teachers did not pick up on the clues. Her father used to make her do all the house work – including washing and dying clothes. More often than not, she turned up in school in smelly clothes, but none of her teachers raised any concern, especially as her condition did improve when her mother was around and she was always well-turned out until her mother got hospitalized.

Her father was in the British army, and they relocated quite a few times. None of the moves made any real difference to Tracy’s life, with her father abusing her, whenever he got a chance. From the age of 5 till she was twelve, abuse carried on. Her father used to call her a ‘prostitute’. She recounts how once her teacher was talking about ‘Protestants’, and she got up and told her proudly that she knew what that was, ‘I am one, My father calls me a prostitute’. Sadly, even this went unnoticed.

As she grew older, she resorted to bad behaviour outside home in an effort to get attention. At one point she told a social worker, who refused to believe her. By this time, her father had started ‘loaning’ to his other paedophile friends by sending her to baby sit their children. She even gets abused by her own brother.

Finally one Commanding Officer listened to her, believed her, and helped her get away from the hell that was her home. She gets sent to a boarding school that the army paid for her.

The author says

I know I’m not the only child who suffered these horrors, but if in writing this I can reach out to even one person and that them what I’ve learned, it will be worth it. It is never the child’s fault. There is nothing you can do that makes abuse something that you deserve.

She goes on to say, ‘ Some people complain that books like these are distasteful. I think raping children is distasteful.’ Can’t really dispute that, can we? The book is written in a very straightforward manner, without overly graphic descriptions, while ensuring that her confusion and pain comes through. A little girl forced to do things which she has no way of understanding, being told that the only way her mum can get better is if she is a ‘good girl’ for her father. And her confusion when no matter how obedient she was, her mother still continued to be ill, and still showed no love towards her…

How was the book? Depressing, upsetting, heart-wrenching. Makes you sick to think that someone could do things like this to their own children. Reading this is not pleasure, but for me books like these is a reminder that we can never be sure of where the danger lurks. That our precious children can be at harm from almost any quarter. Child abusers are regular people, even respected people, ordinary people, who don’t carry badges or ‘looks’ that set them apart.

In the author’s words,

They don’t have ‘evil’ stamped on their foreheads, they don’t carry placards proclaiming what they are. They hide and stay hidden. They are among us and they are very, very clever.

All we can really do is be alert, educate our children, be ready to listen to them and let them know that they can approach us with anything.

A book(like many others) that needs to be read, just so that we are parents don’t get complacent, in my opinion. I have heard people believing that these sorts of things never happen in India, but a read through the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Blog is enough to understand that perverted people exist everywhere.

While this book might have been situated in the West, things like this happen everywhere.

The Virgin Queen’s Daughter by Ella March Chase

The books, opens with Elinor(Nell) de Lacey,imprisoned in the Tower of London, in 1565, wishing she could turn back time, wishing that she could go back to being just Nell, safe in her father’s estate in Lincolnshire, safe from London and the politics of the court.

Nell, grew up in Calverly, cherished by her father, who taught her everything he knew. His love of the sciences, astrology, philosophy, languages, everything that is reserved for boys. Strong minded and willful, Nell, would constantly try her mother’s patience, refusing the learn what her mother felt were necessary skills for a woman, learning to run a household. She was happier reading the books her father read. Her father and her nurse, from birth, Eppie, were the people she loved the most.

Her mother had been the chief lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, and had kept away from the courts ever since the death of Katherine Parr. She knew the reality of life in the courts, and wanted to keep her daughter away from all that.

When Nell was five, her father took her and her mother to London to get some more books, and instruments for star gazing. Nell, had accidently seen Elizabeth(then just Princess Elizabeth), captive in the Tower, and in childish, excitement, tried to save rescue her with a key she found. Five year old Nell believed that the key she found was magical, and would open Elizabeth’s prison. Princess Elizabeth is charmed by the child who wants to free her so much, and promises to never forget her.

Nell’s imagination is captured by the captive Princess, who is known to be as intelligent as she is beautiful. Ever since that experience, all she wanted was to go to the court and be a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, much to her mother’s annoyance and worry. Finally, she manages to reach the courts, after her father’s death, having outsmarted her mother. It was only after she became a lady in waiting that she realized that her mother had been right all along.

She uncovers the truth of her birth, and the shocking realization that the truth could land her in prison. As she learns to speak the ways of the court, to pretend, to lie, to know when to bite her tongue, she finds herself an unlikely ally, someone everybody had warned her against, Sir Gabriel Wyatt. The explosive truth she knows brings danger to everybody she holds dear.  Her beloved nurse, Eppie is tortured and killed, and she has no idea how she could escape from the prison she willingly came to, and no idea if there is anybody she could really trust.

A beautifully written story, fiction woven with known facts, historical fiction in the style of Philippa Gregory. Chase, has explored the possibility that Queen Elizabeth might have had a daughter before she became Queen. In the treacherous environment that the English Court was, such a truth would have given enough material to those who wanted Queen Elizabeth toppled from the crown. With that premise, the author weaves a fascinating story.

Apart from the historical aspect, the story is also about mothers and daughters. Of how Nell and her mother discover each other. Of how Nell, is touched when she learns that all her through her life, her mother lived through the fact that her daughter loved her father and her nurse more than her mother. I found that aspect very touching.

If you like Philippa Gregory’s books, you would enjoy this book. Full of suspense, mystery, romance and intrigue. It also speculates on how it must have been for Queen Elizabeth I, to be a woman leading a country, at a time when women were not considered at par with a man, despite having proven her intelligence and her capability in so many ways. It was a captivating book, and I was surprised to read that it is the first book by the author! I would definitely recommend it, if you like historical fiction.

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

I’ve always loved Sophie Kinsella’s books. Especially her shopoholic series, so when Smita mentioned that Kinsella’s latest was out, I had to read it. Luckily for me, it reached my hands rather quickly too!

Poppy Wyatt, engaged to the perfect man, Magnus Tavish, has everything she wants, until she goes and loses the one thing she is absolutely not supposed to lose – her engagement ring. The precious family heirloom that Magnus had given her as the engagement ring.

It doesn’t help that Magnus’ whole family is full of intellectuals who discuss Greek Philosophy at the dinner table. She already feels that she is considered inferior, not good enough to marry their intellectual son. After all she is just a physiotherapist, with not even a paper in her name. Now having lost their precious ring, she is about to confirm for them, all their worst suspicions about her.

Just when she is trying to locate her ring, she manages to get mugged and loses her phone – her precious phone with all her contacts. Can anything be worse?

Things seem quite bleak until she finds an abandoned phone in the bin. Finders keepers she deems, although the phone’s owner, Sam Roxton, doesn’t quite think so. She is days away from her wedding, juggling between her messages, Sam’s messages, and trying everything to get her ring back, often muddling up things for other people.

So does Poppy get her ring back, does Sam get his phone back? You’ll have to read it to find out, but I can guarantee that you will have a wonderful time reading it! You’ll find yourself chuckling away, laughing out loud(scaring your child, sometimes), and wishing that the book never ends! It is totally unputdownable.

A delightful, fun read, a book that does not disappoint, leaves us wanting for more!

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

‘Another Jodi Picoult’, I can hear some of you groaning 🙂

Yes, another one, and no more for a while, I suspect, because I think I have finally read all of hers so far.

Luke Warren and his 17 year old daughter Cara have been in a terrible car crash. Cara has  a horrible shoulder injury and Luke is in a coma. Cara wakes up to her mother Georgie(Luke’s ex wife) beside her and no sign of her dad. Georgie has already called Edward, their son, from Thailand. Luke is being given very slim chances of recovery by the doctors.

Edward had fled to Thailand after a disagreement with his dad, Luke. He has not been in contact with his sister or his father ever since. He is back for the first time after he left.

Luke is a wolf researcher, who looks after and lives with the captive wolves in the reserve. Cara, his daughter, lives with him since her mother had twins, and she felt more comfortable with her dad’s. Cara also holds a grudge against her older brother Edward for leaving the family and going away to Thailand. She blames her parents separating and divorcing on her brother’s departure. In her mind, none of this would have happened if Edward had not left.

Edward is Luke’s next of kin, since Cara is three months away from turning eighteen. Given that Luke is in a coma, with the doctor’s prognosis of little chance of him surviving and leading a normal life, Edward is asked to make the decision whether or not to pull the plug. Edward decides that his father would not want to have a vegetative exsitence, while Cara strongly disagrees. Edward feels, that a man like his dad, who was happiest with the wolves, happiest being outdoors, wouldn’t want to live on a machine. Cara, on the other hand  wants to keep her father alive, and believes that anything is possible. She believes that her father might recover, and that Edward is in a hurry to end his father’s life. She believes that her brother cannot possibly understand her father better than her after being away for six years, and having had no communication with him, in those years away.

They end up in court fighting to get appointed the next of kin for Luke. In true Jodi Picoult style, there are many threads running and a difficult decision to make. Luke, as he is perceived by the people whose lives he touched, is revealed. Cara, his daughter who idolized him. Georgie, his ex-wife, who found happiness with her now husband Joe. Edward, who has the biggest issues with his dad. Will Edward be unbiased in his decision? Can Cara make unbiased decisions for that matter? Can anybody be truly unbiased? And who would truly understand what Luke would have wanted.

The story of Luke’s living with the wolves in the wild, carries on as a parallel thread. That gives us a perspective of Luke’s life and motivations. Here is a man who lives a life which most of us cannot even begin to imagine. He went to live in the wild, becoming one of the wolves, part of the pack, eating raw meat, living like a wolf in the true sense. He seems to be a person far more at home with his wolf family than his human family. The expectations from his human family seems far more complex to him. He almost seems to have forgotten to live a human life.

He had been a  hero, appearing on TV, his wolves being his first priority, but like everybody else, a human, with his own flaws and problems.For his wife and son, they seem to come second to his wolves. For his daughter, he was a true hero – nothing anybody said,or believed, could detract from that, for her.

I think this is what I like about Picoult – all her characters are real, in the sense that every one of them have flaws, have deep secrets, and face tough moral dilemmas(although far tougher and complex ones that the rest of us might face).

The amount of research Picoult must have done for this book, is mind boggling. The details that she recounts, are amazing! In her foreword, she mentions that she realized that there is a person, Shaun Ellis, who actually lives among wolves. And he has written a memoir ‘The Man who lives with Wolves’. I think I will definitely be reading this book.

It is a beautiful story. Picoult adds her ingredients of moral dilemmas, which are difficult to work with, and blends it with emotions, perceptions, and lives of all her characters to make it a fascinating read. Another book which stays with you. Making you wonder, what one would do if faced with such a situation – having to decide when to let a loved one go.

What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin

Roop, one of Bachan Singh’s two daughters, grows up without her mother. Her father, a respected however not-too-well-off a person in the village, does his best in bringing up his daughters and son.

Roop grows up believing that she is destined to a better life. When Bachan Singh gets a proposal from one of the wealthiest men in the village for his daughter, he is delighted, only to be disappointed when he realizes that it is not for one of the wealthy man’s sons. but for an already married relative of his. However, already in debt after his elder daughter’s wedding, Bachan Singh does not have much of an option but to agree. Bachan Singh might have been heavy hearted but Roop was delighted. She was convinced that she has a wonderful fate in store for her. Even becoming a second wife does not faze her. She believes that she will be a little sister to her older co-wife.

Satya, Sardarji’s wife is sophisticated, the perfect mate to the Oxford educated Sardarji. Perfect, but for the fact that she is barren. She tries hard to fight her fate, hoping that Sardarji will refuse to take a second wife, only to realize that despite his educational credentials, Sardarji is still bound by his roots. Having an heir, a son, is very important to him.

She is hit hard by the fact that the new bride has got handed all her jewellery. Everything that was hers is now Roop’s. Satya tries everything she can to ensure that Sardarji’s second marriage is ruined.

It is a touching story woven through the landscape of political landscape of unrest and eventually India’s Partition into India and Pakistan.

Roop’s initial innocence, trying hard to please everybody, believing that she and Satya would be like sisters, her compliance and her slow metamorphosis into her own person, somebody who understood that she had to fight for her rights in every way she could. She learns the ways of the world to survive, to hold on to her position, as the mother of Sardarji’s children.

Sardarji, again a complex character, educated in England, a civil engineer, outwardly a modern person, but when it came to his inner self, someone who held on to the views of his society. He tries to saddle both his worlds, wining and dining with his English colleagues, while looking down on them(just as they did him), and his life in Indian society.

Satya’s bitterness, her inability to accept her fate, trying everything she could to ensure that Roop is just a baby maker, and not Sardarji’s wife. Satya comes across as a strong person, someone who knows her rights, and tries to fight society in the way she could. A woman who argues with her husband, who refuses to be ‘sweet-sweet’ in front of her husband, a woman who believes that she is her husband’s equal.

The book is also sprinkled with instances of how underprivileged women(and girls) were in those days. At her father’s place, Roop had never tasted meat or fish – that was reserved for her brother, because the whole family’s fortune rested on him. The girls would just be married off. Roop’s unmarried aunt, who keeps planning to leave, but everybody is aware, that she will never leave.  After all, as an unmarried woman, she does not have a house of her own, to go to.

The book also deals with the way political unrest changed life as they knew it. Once Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs lived together in harmony, but with the partition looming closer, things changed, loyalties changed…Life as they knew it changed. It also reflects how Sikhs viewed the partition. While carving out countries keeping in mind the two main communities, Sikhs were the ones who were uprooted from their land and made to migrate into a new, foreign land. One stroke of the pen that made them foreigners in their own land.. A partition when one minority was almost entirely ignored…

A beautifully written story, leaves you moved, saddened, and a lot wiser. A wonderful read.

The Wedding Wallah by Farahad Zama

Another book, I chanced upon by accident. I saw it on the ‘just returned books’ shelf in my library, and I had to have it!

It turned out to be a sequel to another series of books, but it still was easy enough to figure out the previous parts of the story.

Mr Ali runs a successful marriage bureau, while Mrs Ali runs a successful campaign against crows in her back yard. Their niece Pari who lives near them, is a widow, and has just adopted a young boy, Vasu. Mr and Mrs Ali have taken her(and her son) under their wings, while hoping that their son, Rehman would get more responsible.

Everybody is pleasantly surprised when Pari gets a marriage proposal from a very affluent lady for her son Dilawar. Everybody is overjoyed and feels that Pari should accept the proposal, while Pari herself seems extremely unsure. Pari had been working at a call centre and felt independent enough to take care of herself and her son. She also loved her husband, and is not quite sure about marrying again.

There is also Aruna(Mr Ali’s assistant) and her husband Ramanujam’s story interwoven with the story.

It was a very interesting read. I read it almost in one sitting. I loved the way the author has brought out scenes in everyday life. I loved his descriptions of the characters. Mrs Ali, and her neighbours, Mr Ali, Pari – all very real, and believable. Mrs Ali’s new cellphone and the way she handles the phone, is so typical of some of the older people I know. Aruna and her husband make a very cute and loving couple – again quite real, in the small town way they are portrayed. Dilawar’s dilemma – to follow society’s norms or to follow his heart..

The book addresses gay rights issues, the campaign in India to legalize gay relationships, and the kind of issues they face in society today from police harassing them to societal condemnation.

The story also brings to front, the Naxalite movement, as is prevalent in certain parts of India, where landlords have oppressed the poorer sections of society for ages.

The author manages to weave in the different political and social issues really well into the story. A fast paced, interestingly written story. I was a little disappointed with the way the book ended. There was something missing. But that might be because there is more in the series to come. I think I will definitely be picking up his other books.