Monday, September 12, 2011

readin' on: Kate Morton's The Distant Hours and Shilpi Somave Gowda's Secret Daughter

I confess...I really did want to get these up yesterday for the symbolism of following my own theory,  Oh well  Both are books I purchased rather than Harper picks.

In general, I think my favorites books tend to be from authors who only produce a single novel, maybe two.  I guess they are the type of single stories an author almost feels the need to get out.  The bad part is it means I don't get to anticipate another novel from a favorite author too much.  Kate Morton is an exception...I just love her haunting stories.  I consider them literary mysteries although the word gothic is bantered about more.

The Distant Hours is told in two time periods, the pretty modern-day journey of Edie to uncover the past and the WWII-era residents of Milderhurst Castle.  Edie learns her mother was evacuated from London to the castle as a girl during the war and discovers the castle was also the place where a favorite childhood read was penned.  The book explores the mystery of the book as well as the disappearance of a young man engaged to one of the sisters living in the castle.  It is heavily influenced by concepts of family...both those that are arguably too tight and those where mothers and daughters feel at a loss to understand one another. 

It probably isn't my favorite Morton book (The Forgotten Garden would win), but I still fell into and it is still a solid 4 star read.  The characters have complex histories and emotions and their relationships are much more real than perfect.  It's a long book but I devoured it.  I often want to savor a good read and not let it end, but I really wanted to know the book's secrets.  I'll definitely re-read it eventually....I think it would be interesting to go back to the start while knowing the secrets.

I had this on my nightstand and moved it up in the pile when a friend mentioned it on FB as a great read (too odd that we'd both suddenly picked it up). 

Throughout this novel, the chapters vary focus but all revolve around the individuals tied to one little girl.  In India, Kavita gives her newborn daughter to an orphanage to save her from the gender-based infanticide that took her firstborn.  The child is later adopted and moved to American by Somer, a California doctor married to an Indian man who came to the US for his own medical training and stayed after they fell in love.  We get to see not only the two mothers but also their spouses, a bit of their families, and the shared daughter.  When the girl, Asha, is in college she takes a Watson Fellowship and goes to India to live with family and work on a journalism piece, allowing the reader to see both her American and Indian families.

I appreciate that the author really avoids one-sided characters.  We even grow to understand and see the good in the husband who had directed the infanticide of Asha's older sister.  We also see a lot of the beauty in the Indian culture as well as the startling contrasts in modern-day India between the well-off and those living in horrid, fetid slums.  India itself is a charcter, a well-rounded one, and the book is about both culture and family. 

I'm at 3.5 stars though.  I'll round up to 4.  While I loved the way it felt very real and showed that reality is rarely pure good and pure evil, I just felt like it missed something that prevents me from the full 4 stars (despite the rounding that the websites require).  The characters were all real and flawed but I never truly felt like I understood them.  I did appreciate the ending and the vivid sense of place and definitely enjoyed the journey but I never fell in love with the book.

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