“No Country” by Kalyan Ray; published by Simon & Schuster (www.simonandschuster.com); 544 pages; $27.
Kalyan Ray, who has previously written “Eastwords” and now “No Country,” is a master storyteller. Though well over 500 pages, we can bet you won’t want to put this well-crafted book down. It starts off in upstate 1989 New York but then most of the evocative tale is a flashback, taking the reader back to 1843 Ireland before the Irish Potato Famine, which killed more than a million people. Caught up amid the tragedy in the seaport of Sligo are two friends, Padraig Aherne and Brendan McCarthaigh. Left with no choice, Aherne finds himself on a ship bound for Calcutta leaving behind his close pal as well as an infant girl. McCarthaigh too flees Ireland for America with Aherne’s daughter, aboard one of the notoriously cruel “coffin ships.” “No Country” is the story of the two families uniting together, with catastrophic results, a century later. This multi-continental, multi-generational epic of a novel is sheer brilliance at work. Here’s proof of Ray’s immense talent at bringing history alive in a few sentences: “The train was a swift planet, clacking and swooshing through the black night, rocking me. I dozed for a while and sat up in that somber hour when light cracks the door open, and the light turns pale as the underwing of a predatory owl, and through the window I saw the sky, still and hard as a forgotten bowl of milk left outside on a frozen morning.”
“Family Life” by Akhil Sharma; published by W.W. Norton (www.norton.com); $15.45; 224 pages.
“Almost everything in the novel is true,” admits the author of this heart-wrenching, gloomy, sad but elegantly written novel filled with dark humor. “Family Life” traces the story of an immigrant family that moves to America in the late 1970s. The Mishras and their two sons, Birju, and younger Ajay are initially excited to visit the promising land where dreams come true. For two years, the family experiences paradise till tragedy strikes Birju, who has an accident in a swimming pool, leaving him severely brain damaged. Sharma voices his own feelings, sort of, through the narrator Ajay – right from childhood till his investment banking career, in a modest but heartening way. Toward the end of the novel, while reminiscing about bygones, he writes touchingly, “Walking, I remembered that when we lived in India, the electricity would frequently go out at night, and my mother and I and Birju would be going someplace or coming back from someplace. My mother would then take a flashlight out of her purse and give it to Birju. Birju would then walk ahead of us. He would guide us. He would wave the flashlight’s beam over the ground. “Follow me,” he would say.” After his highly acclaimed debut with the award-winning “An Obedient Father,” you don’t want to miss Sharma’s latest.
“Love in a time of Technology” poems by Sasenarine Persaud; TSAR Publications (www.mawenzihouse.com/); $19.95; 76 pages.
The talented poet is all over in his latest venture but then that is one of Sasenarine Persaud’s major draws. At one time or another, the reader takes a stroll in a Tampa park on the river, downtown Toronto, magnolia plantation in South Carolina, Kew Gardens neighborhood in New York, Taj Mahal in Agra, the old colonial bandstand in Georgetown, etc. A native of Guyana, Persaud of New Tampa is an author of 12 books of fiction and poetry. He worked as a writer in Canada before moving to the United States. Among his awards include the K M Hunter Foundation Award, the Arthur Schomburg Award and fellowships/scholarships from the University of Miami and Boston University.
Here is the title poem:
“And you will forget
how foxes yelped at night
near the Morningside Park
how mongrels roamed in packs
howling and barking
in a rage at spirits of the dark
fowl-cocks chain crowing
lighting up a foreday morning
You are immersed in the Internet.
You have forgotten
how to speak, to say “I’m sorry.”
And you will part as you have met
through the portals of the Internet.”
Like his previous “In a Boston Night” poems, this is another must-read for fans of Persaud.
“Rani Celebrates Holi” by Anita Badhwar; CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (www.littleprincessrani.com); $19.95; 32 pages.
This is the fourth in a children’s book series, “Little Princess Rani and the Palace Adventures” by Anita Badhwar. The Gainesville author has written and illustrated “Rani Saves Diwali,” “Rani and the Safari Surprise!” “Rani Visits the Taj Mahal” and now “Rani Celebrates Holi.” Little Princess Rani and her friends Hari the parrot and lady-in-waiting Jaya are looking forward to celebrate the spring festival of colors. But pet elephant Bindi is not very fond of getting messy by the colored powder. Rani comes up with a plan to persuade Bindi to participate in the festivities. Badhwar says the objective of the series is to present Indian culture and festivals to children ages 6 to 8 in a fun, yet educational manner. Toward that end, the author also has devoted an entire page to “The Meaning of Holi.” The book should be quite helpful for the young to appreciate and celebrate the vibrant festival in March.