Sunday, April 10, 2016
Published by Riverhead Books, May 3, 2016. Hardcover, 336 pgs
I love a good self-discovery story, particularly after a character has suffered loss. I enjoyed Wild by Cheryl Strayed, in which the protagonist decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail hoping to find solace and understanding after her mom's death. When I was contacted for this review, I happened to be reading Sanctuary of the Soul by Richard J Foster- a Christian book about the journey into meditative prayer. The theme of quieting your heart and mind to receive understanding is present in many religions, and helps ground us in a world filled with chaos.
This story focuses on Max, a man in his early 20's who has just lost his mother to cancer. He lives in New York City and is straddling two vastly different worlds. On one hand, his poverty stricken childhood makes him all too familiar with the slums, where his mother raised him and his sister Sophia the best she could in the projects- while gang violence and drug deals took place in their building and the alleys outside.
Even though Max successfully obtained a financial job on Wall Street, he still has ties to a rough neighborhood in the South Bronx. The book opens on him and his sister leaving their mother's hospital, where they are accosted by a crazed homeless man. An Indian street vendor selling falafels saves the situation. Max is still rattled by the depravity of the city and ends up going back to the vendor to give him a coat (since he wasn't wearing a shirt in deep winter) and thank him for his kindness. In the process, Max begins questioning him about his aversion to cold, and is told the story of his time in the Himalayas, where his body became used to extreme temperatures. Further pressed by Max, the vendor (Viveka) tells him of the yogis near his homeland that would sit in caves for months on end meditating in nominal clothing, and seem no worse for the wear. Thus sparks the idea for Max's journey to the Himalayas. What follows is his unclear quest to find clarity in life, in some meaningful way.
I liked the story. I'm a cold weather person who loves being active, and I could almost feel the biting air described by Max as he journeyed further into the mountains. I liked the author's acknowledgement that most self-professed "gurus" are frauds hoping to make a buck off of hipster Westerner's naivete. The writing was strong and the story well-paced. Most people believe there is a higher power, and nourishment of the soul is essential to happiness.
For a book describing mostly intangible elements, Karan Bajaj did a great job. However, I couldn't connect with this as much as I would have liked- since it's impossible to truly experience on paper, unless one becomes an actual Yogi. Due to the focus of the novel, I think there might be a limited target audience. However, those who have an intense interest in Yoga and meditation will find a unique experience indeed.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Published by Gallery Books, (an imprint of Simon & Schuster), April 5, 2016. Hardcover, 336 pgs
The timing of this review request was funny, because I'd been reading my first thriller in a long time, Killing Floor by Lee Child. This used to be my primary, go-to genre before Literary Fiction and Fantasy. It was great fun returning to an old favorite, especially since this is set in one of my favorites places to visit-New York City, as well as being a financial-based thriller.
The story centers on Jonathan Caine, a previously successful Hedge fund manager who wines and dines upper-echelon investors. We know he has landed in heaps of trouble, as the first page finds him musing in a prison cell. The story then details the months prior to his predicament, where we find out delightful details about his greedy lifestyle and "I want what I want" rich boy mentality. There is no pretense at innocence, which I appreciated. The immediate aftermath of the scandal finds him back home visiting his dad, where he reconnects with Jackie, the out-of-his-league Prom Queen at his 25th High School Reunion. She becomes the second conflict in the story, and the narrative goes forward from there.
Sidenote: The scene featuring the high school reunion was startling, awaiting me sooner than I'd like to admit. The uncomfortable realization that the middle-aged people present aren't teachers, but fellow classmates, isn't something I'm looking forward to. Also, losing contact with people except for the occasional Facebook like and annual obligatory Happy Birthday message is 100% my reality.
At it's core, this book is about ambition, the choices we make, and the repercussions of relationships (both good and bad). Oh, and major manipulation. Here's my conflict. I love strong characters. I don't mind unlikable characters if they're interesting and compelling enough for me to be invested. With Jackie and Jonathan, I was disappointed in lack of character development. They often had very stereotypical adulterous interactions, with her angry and dumb ex-husband thrown in occasionally. Jonathan is also supposedly seeking to reconnect with his family, visiting his father in a nursing home. I kept waiting for genuine heart to hearts that never materialized. Mitzner could have been making a social commentary that people don't change, but it felt more like he was trying to show improvement that simply fell short of the mark. Hmmm. So this will provoke thought, but I just wanted to care more about their problems.
I flew through the last seventy five pages, and loved the legal power plays and last minute twists. I would be interested in more from this author, especially to see how his characters compare in other stories. I recommend this for people who love fast-paced narratives with interesting financial components and courtroom drama.