Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Labor Day reading

I spent a big chunk of Monday on the train. In that time I read two nooks from start to finish:

Liszt's Kiss by Susanne Dunlap

Author uses composer Franz Liszt's relationship with countess Marie d'Agoult as the jumping-off point for her second (after Emilie's Voice) music historical novel. Neither Listz nor Marie is the protagonist of Liszt's Kiss. That position belongs to the teenage Anne de Barbier-Chouant, a young countess and musical protégé. Liszt uses Anne's lessons as a way to get close to Marie, the dearest friend of Anne's recently deceased mother.

Liszt's Kiss has so much potential, but it falls flat. The relationships in the novel are interesting. Anne has a number of different love interests (including Liszt) each from a different walk of life. Her father, though, is a confusing character. He's not particularly well-drawn and ends up being a bit of a stock character despite the fact that he's supposed to be an enigma. The mystery in the novel is centered around the father, but it (along with the eventual Liszt/d'Agoult coupling) is rushed through at the end of the book with the aid of one too many coincidences. Dunlap could easily have added a hundred pages to the novel and really fleshed out the mystery and the story's conclusion and Liszt's Kiss would have been a much stronger novel.

The Pakistani Bride by Bapsi Sidhwa

I recently received a copy of The Pakistani Bride and decided to read it right away since I've been
intrigued by Sidhwa since I read Cracking India (alternatively titled Ice Candy Man) in college. Though it was published after The Crow Eaters, The Pakistani Bride was the first novel Sidhwa wrote. It was inspired by an article she'd read about Pakistani girl who ran away from an intolerable marriage only to be hunted down in the Hindukush mountains and beheaded by her husband. (my copy of the book included an introduction by Anita Desai, which put the novel in context)

Sidhwa writing is wonderful. She has a gift with language. Her story is well-crafted to show a variety of different perspectives and she's not the least bit heavy handed. The inclusion of a Western character, a liberal American woman who'd married a Pakistani man, is at first look a bit curious, but her role is an important one. She is at once a second Pakistani bride, whose experience mirrors the first's (everything is about degrees in this novel), and a way for Sidhwa to really connect with her Western readers.

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