When the Cossacks invade their village, young Avrum and his brother Hershel manage to hide and survive the attacks which kill more than 80 members of their small Polish community. Trying to gather their wits about them and come to terms with the deaths of both parents, the two boys decide to make their way to the synagogue in Lvov. The road to Lvov is paved with one horror after another, and a harrowing experience at the home of a decrepit old woman leads to the brothers’ ultimate separation. Avrum, the tragic main character in Arnold Holtzman’s To The End of Days, spends the better part of his young life making his way to America to build a life for himself and, hoping beyond hope, to reunite with Hershel.
Holtzman has the striking ability to appeal to all of the reader’s senses through his writing. The scene in which Avrum and Hershel are fighting for their lives at the cottage of the old woman is particularly gripping. I was utterly repulsed by the vivid descriptions of the vile woman and the filth in which she lived. As horrific as the circumstances were, I was unable to tear myself away from this disturbing string of events. The same can be said for each stage in Avrum’s life. As he moves across the country and eventually on to North America, each new circumstance brings rich details, vivid images of despair, and poignant scenes of his struggle as an immigrant.
The various settings described throughout Avrum’s journey are exceptionally well-written. At every turn, I felt myself immersed in the sights and sounds of early 1900’s America and the Jewish culture. Holtzman leaves nothing to the imagination which, in turn, leaves the reader more time to focus on the plot surrounding Avrum and the subplot focusing on Fanny.
Avrum captured my heart from the moment he and Hershel faced the fate of their mother. His heart-wrenching grief and his determination to find his brother dominate his life for years, and are the driving force behind everything he does from finding work and wrestling when offered the opportunity to pursuing every lead no matter how futile it may seem. Avrum’s strength is unmatched.
Bella is not a character I enjoyed–but I wasn’t supposed to feel warm toward her. Holtzman has done a phenomenal job creating a selfish, arrogant, and needy female match for unlucky Avrum. Though she doesn’t make her true intentions known until much later in her relationship with Avrum, I admit I was suspicious of her from the beginning. She is one of those characters who is far too concerned with making herself understood and appreciated. The author has succeeded phenomenally in creating a character worthy and deserving of the reader’s loathing.
Intermingled with the characteristics of historical fiction is a pleasing amount of mystery. Avrum encounters numerous clues to Hershel’s fate throughout the years, but the author skillfully weaves a web of subplots while redirecting the reader’s attention. Even to the final pages, I was yet unsure of poor Hershel’s fate. Kudos to Holtzman–this is how I prefer my fiction.
Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the insanely detailed descriptions of the havoc wreaked by the Cossacks and the accuracy regarding the Jewish culture. Avrum and Hershel represent everything that was wrong with this period in world history and everything that can go incredibly right when a man remains unfailingly loyal to his family.
Pages: 410 | ASIN: 1977981844
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“While Kenyatta initiated corruption, and made it a pastime for well-placed government officials, Moi institutionalized it and made it routine within all ranks of society.”
Looters and Grabbers, 54 Years of Corruption and Plunder by the Elite by Joe Khamisi is a detailed account of the historical and contemporary corruption plaguing the African country of Kenya. It details corruption from the highest levels of government down to average citizens. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific theme of corruption spanning from 1963 to 2017 and encompassing four presidencies; Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta.
I started this book thinking there would be some kind of a silver lining at the end, but there isn’t one. What you’ll find is a detailed account of the pervasive corruption that is literally everywhere in Kenya. Time and time again it’s shown how corruption is despised by all but is undertaken at every opportunity. It seems that anti-corruption is the political rallying call, but profit is always the underlying goal.
This is a historical book in that it does describe the rise of four of Kenya’s presidents, Kenya’s independence from Britain, and the development of Kenya’s modern government, but it does all of this with a focus on corruption; from it’s inception into it’s many manifestations in every part of Kenya’s government. One thing that I learned is how corruption in Kenya is not a local affair, but a global enterprise. European, Asian, and Western countries have had their turn profiting from corruption in Kenya.
One thing I did enjoy was how we get to see the country develop, through stories of corruption, into modern times. We go from President Kenyatta who is the first president when Kenya receives its independence from Britain, to president Uhuru who its noted as having a large Twitter following. At one point even mentioning Paul Manafort and his company helping the Kenyan President resuscitate his global image.
This is a good book for those interested in history, African culture, political science students, and most of all corruption. If you’re interested in learning how corruption is instituted, contributed to, and perpetuated, then this book is a master class in delivering specific examples.
What concerned me the most after reading account after account was that, as the author states, these are the corruption cases that we know about, and have been documented or reported on by the media. I’m sure there are plenty more that we don’t know about.
This book is exceptionally researched with a wealth of references. Joe Khamisi has done a fantastic job turning a list of corruption cases into a linear narrative that is compelling and thought provoking.
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LoveQuest is a dramatic retelling of an ancient Greek myth about Psyche, a mortal woman, and Eros, the god of love. Why did you want to retell this story and what were some new ideas you wanted to introduce?
I’ve always loved mythology, from the time I was first exposed to it as a child. As a student of literature, I was aware of how the ancient myths continued to influence art and culture to the present day.
There were myths in particular that caught my attention, and, in my early 30s, I was particularly drawn to that of Eros and Psyche. I never imagined a Roman setting, but the romantic, wonderful, and bucolic setting of ancient Greece.
To me, the myth of Eros and Psyche comprises all that is romantic. Each of us yearns for a partner who is the ideal of everything we’ve ever dreamed of, but somehow we don’t believe we are worthy of such love.
We deceive ourselves by letting others define us. We vacillate and let fear conquer us. The world leads us astray and we fail ourselves and those who love us.
To be human is to be like Psyche. I identified with her and all her failings, as well as with her attempts to make reparations and redeem herself.
Psyche held her gifts in low esteem, and that was her first mistake. Beauty is a gift, and those who are blessed with it are meant to shine, just as a writer must write and a dancer must dance.
Being morbidly influenced by her malignant sisters was another of Psyche’s mistakes. It should be easy to tell a friend from an enemy; people should not let their enemies define them or direct their behavior.
Eros has a coming-of-age experience; he takes a path distinct from his mother’s and follows his own destiny. As for Aphrodite, she has to decide whether she should set her child free or protect him from making a grown-up’s mistake.
At one point, Psyche has an opportunity to escape her trials and slink back home. Instead of choosing the mediocrity of a safe and easy path, she decides to follow her heart and endure and suffer for a higher objective. The difficult path is the one that gives us a chance to stretch ourselves, excel ourselves, and be better than we would otherwise be.
On an elevated level, the myth is the story of the redeeming power of love, and of the soul in search of redemption and perfection.
I felt that your characters were well developed and their personalities were distinct. What are some important traits you like your characters to have?
I want people to identify with my characters, or at least see in them what they see in others. A character cannot succeed unless he or she connects with the reader. The reader doesn’t have to like the character; it’s only important that the reader perceives the character as alive and real.
I don’t want my characters to be too good or too bad. There is risk of falling into parody if they are. My villains, if they can be called villains, are not all bad; they just behave badly.
What kind of research did you undertake to ensure you got the mythology right in LoveQuest?
The main source for my story is The Age of Fable (1855) by the American writer Thomas Bulfinch (1796 – 1867). This has been a classic and standard text for the Greek myths ever since.
Bulfinch appeals because he attempts to write the myths with all “the charm of a story book,” while adhering “to the text of the ancient authorities.” He writes “for the reader of English literature” and “to popularize mythology and extend the enjoyment of elegant literature.”
I have allowed Bulfinch to provide the framework of my story, but I have attempted to expand upon it, infuse it with other elements of magic and wonder, and, I hope, provide readers with a greater depth of understanding for the lessons the story imparts.
I have taken some liberty with Bulfinch’s story of Eros and Psyche. Gaia, the Earth Mother, is an immortal apart from the gods of Olympus. The talking animals are a tribute to C. S. Lewis and Disney, and the intervention of the South and North Winds is my own device, providing a natural way to give Eros allies outside his mother’s influence.
The mysterious Dream Lover is a mystical being born of imagination.
What is the next novel that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have been spending much of my time since the publication of LoveQuest in promoting my books (my historical novel Brief Candles was published in 1983) and sharing my short stories on my website. However, I do have many projects planned and already in development.
I am building a narrative around the diary I kept when I was fourteen, filled with the anxieties, vanities, and pain of adolescence.
Another project is a dystopia of a class-based society where the tidal wave for change is already churning under the surface of a closed and exclusive world.
An overreaching work is a history of late 15th century England during the period popularly known as the Wars of the Roses. I have been studying that period on and off for over 50 years, and friends have encouraged me to collect my research in a nonfiction book.
None of these projects is close to completion, and I know by experience that a sudden inspiration could cause me to push something totally unexpected forward.
One way or another, I will never stop writing.
LoveQuest, a romantic fantasy, is a light-hearted retelling of one of the most enduring love stories from ancient Greek mythology: the forbidden passion of Eros, the god of Love, for the mortal woman Psyche.
A god’s love for a mortal woman…
It is ancient Greece, a world of gods, superstition, and magic. The villagers dwelling under the eyes of the jealous and capricious gods on Mount Olympus seek to gain their favor and to uncover the mysteries that only the immortals can know by turning to priests, soothsayers, seers, and fortune-tellers.
The oracle of the divine Apollo is one of the most famous of these seers. Although physically nothing more than a pool of water in a cavern, its wisdom is so renown across Greece that many journey far and wide to seek its counsel.
Among the pilgrims are the wealthy cloth merchant Pericles, his wife Leena, and their daughters Medea, Tanna, and Psyche. Although Psyche is blessed by Aphrodite, the goddess of Beauty, and is cherished by the people of her village for her loveliness, she cares little for their attention, seeking only the approval of her envious and malicious sisters.
Medea and Tanna ridicule the oracle’s prophecy that Psyche will make a “marvelous” marriage to someone “not human,” and use it as another means to torment their sister, driving her to tears.
Offended by Psyche’s behavior and not accustomed to being taken for granted, Aphrodite retaliates by asking her son Eros, the god of Love, to punish Psyche with a life of lovelessness.
Coming to Psyche and her sisters under a cloak of invisibility, Eros is filled with pity for Psyche but determined to carry out his mother’s wishes. Aphrodite’s plan goes amok when Eros wounds himself with his own arrow carrying out the punishment. He falls in love with the woman his mother hates.
Eros must make a decision: Will he do his mother’s bidding and resist the power of love, or will he defy her by setting his own course in pursuit of Psyche’s heart?
And, if he develops an elaborate plan to win Psyche, whose help can he enlist? Is love with Psyche possible, and how long can he keep up his deception before his mother discovers him?
Compared with Eros, Psyche is a novice at love. Eros can’t approach her as a human suitor would approach a human woman. She too has a decision to make: Should she believe the loving words of a mysterious stranger, or should she believe her sisters?
The consequences for Eros and Psyche are dear. Aphrodite’s temper is not something to toy with. She is angry enough with Psyche, but if Psyche should do wrong to her son Eros, there might be no end to the punishment Psyche faces at the hands of the jealous goddess.
Psyche must choose between betrayal and fidelity, just as Eros must connive to win her love and the approval of his mother. Both of them must be put to the test in order to find their heart’s desire.
Posted in Interviews
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Dare to Be the Change, written by Annella Metoyer, tells the story of Annella’s life and how she overcame adversities to be the change she wished to see in the world. Annella faces a world of segregation and judgement based on the color of her skin, but is determined to push through the racism and have people see her for who she truly is. This begins a world of firsts for Annella, from being the first colored cheerleader to the first woman of color to work in her local bank. Her life journey will inspire, and enlighten you as you learn what it takes to make a difference in the world.
Growing up in a small town of Louisiana, Annella lives in a time where racism was prevalent in the community. With society segregating everyone into two groups of “colored” and “white”, Annella struggles with her identity. This segregation continues throughout all of her schooling years; however, it was several teachers and adults in her life that showed her that she didn’t need to accept the injustice and inequality that society expected her to endure.
I admired the relationship Annella had with her parents and in particular the strength and support her father showed her throughout her life. Rather than allowing racism to control their lives, he would take a stance and voice his concerns about the unfairness of how children were treated due to the colour of their skin. He was also the instigator of her career as the first woman of color at a bank, forming the pathways of her strength and persistence for change.
Dare to Be the Change enlightens the reader with racial situations or expectations that show an unfair and unjust part of our history. Conditions such as separate school buses or being unable to enter a cafe through the front door if you were colored seem like a preposterous idea, but sadly they were the real-life situations that people had to endure every day.
Throughout the story, you can tell the author Annella Metoyer radiates a certain positivity and gratitude that I believe led her to achieve so many significant changes. There are times where she could have relished in the negativity, but instead, she talks about the positive people in her life that helped her grow and become more confident as a woman. Annella’s endurance and strength to stand up for what is right is a trait to be admired and one that we don’t often see in the world. Annella’s hard work ethic and ability to prove herself in her career is just one way she initiates change as she begins to show others that there is more to a person than the color of their skin.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for an inspirational story that will motivate you to be the change you wish to see in the world.
Pages: 91 | ASIN: B079QM5MNC
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Lesley J. Mooney’s Beyond Sun and Shadows is another epic and sweeping tale from the author. Set in Western Australia on a sheep and cattle station in 1948, we follow the lives of a diverse set of characters who are faced with the harsh daily realities of living in the outback with all of its perils and wildness. After they learn of the escape of two dangerous prisoners and then a corpse is found by the local mailman, Ezrah, the community is thrown into turmoil. What ensues is a story of love, adventure and mystery in the Australian bush.
The books primary themes seem to be humankind’s connection to the land and the pioneering spirit of the Australian people, but there are also themes of love, ancestry and the masculine and the feminine. Although the story is set in the 1940’s/50’s, many of its concerns are modern so the book feels both historical and contemporary.
The thing that I loved most about this book was discovering some of the heritage of Australia, such as Aboriginal culture. Landscape plays an integral role in the story, and Mooney excels at writing environment and place–her prose is beautifully lyrical in these instances. Her descriptions of the vastness of the landscape and the tempestuous nature of the bush are particularly vivid and affecting. Not only does she invoke the wide open spaces of the outback, but she also conjures up the minutiae and ‘everyday’ aspects of life such as cooking, and working with the horses and cattle, in evocative detail.
Reading the book, I felt like I had been transported to a land completely foreign to me as the author writes with a very ‘Australian’ voice, but I felt immersed in the world in spite of being ignorant to it. Mooney’s dialogue feels natural. I really enjoyed her use of dialect and Australian phrases and idioms in the writing as well as the inclusion of songs and poetry. Writing dialect can be difficult to pull off, but I actually relished in the musical language of the characters, which added to the authenticity and overall tone of the narrative.
Mooney’s worlds are always fully formed and engaging throughout. She has created a troupe of memorable characters who stay etched in your memory; it is as though they have been living in the author’s mind forever ready to come alive on the page. Because the narrative encompasses so many characters and storylines, it can seem quite meandering at times, and I occasionally felt like I was reading a book of short stories rather than a novel. The book is quite lengthy, and I don’t think that it would have suffered for being a little shorter, but the yarn spun by the author kept me intrigued even whilst the pace was slightly lagging.
This is a rewarding read, full of intimate detail and stunning imagery which left me with a real yearning to visit the sprawling outback of Australia and experience it for myself.
Pages: 537 | ASIN: B072J3M6QV
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Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet is a genre-crossing novel with elements of romance, mystery, and suspense as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
I’ve learnt much from reading about other people, and their stories. I’ve always enjoyed entering different worlds. But it haunted me that I was seeing a world that nobody else was sharing. Perhaps its my background; I was born in a migrant camp of refugee parents, and have spent my life travelling the world. I’ve lived and worked in so many countries. Believe it or not, for a time I lived in Syria, Iraq, and Libya – these are places in the book – and the people I met were all normal; all just trying to get on. But when I returned back to the West, the images portrayed of these places in the news horrified me. I decided to tell a story set in the Middle East. No clichés; no stereotypes – I wanted to tell it how it really is. I took real people I knew, and I took the real problems they faced; loves, family, work, and religion. I wanted my readers to meet ordinary people in the extraordinary circumstances of that Arabian world so far away from everyday life in the USA. I wanted my readers to wonder if this could possibly be true, then to slowly realize it was, and be amazed.
Ricky has a tumultuous but passionate relationship with Breeze. What was your inspiration for their relationship?
When writing about the characters – not only Ricky, Breeze and Leoni, but all of them – I did my best to make them as blameless as I could. I mean by this, that I wanted the reader to picture themselves in the dilemmas they all faced, wonder what they would do, and then be able to sympathize with how each character actually reacted. I thought of it as a chess game. If you were in poverty, how far would you go to escape? If you were alone, to what lengths would you go to find love? What was the best move? The answer will always be a trade-off. But given the incredible barriers they all faced, none of them could have it all; it came down to making singular choices – choosing one dream; one priority. And in making their choice, each character sacrificed the dreams of others. Well, I have to say, it surprised me how readers reacted. In all the reviews I’ve had, readers either love or hate Breeze; they think Ricky is incredibly spineless or courageous. If there is no middle ground when the facts are clear, what hope do people have finding compromise in the uncertainties of real life?
Ricky was a well-developed character that continued to develop throughout the story. What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?
Religion was an important part of the story. Ricky is a lukewarm Christian – a Filipino Catholic – living in an Islamic world. Walid, Ricky’s devout Moslem friend, is the sounding-board against which ideas about faith flow back and forth. And then there is Breeze, a daughter of Chinese parents who had endured the amoral excesses of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She is immune to religion. How do we live with religion’s patent contradictions? How do we reconcile the mutual-exclusivity of different faiths? And yet, how do we find a moral compass – meaning and purpose – with no faith at all? These questions clash as Ricky and Breeze navigate their many problems. Ricky’s journey is ultimately one in which he loses the things he wants, but takes on the person he needs to be. Whether you are religious or not, the message in the story is that Truth alone makes you strong. We are all dependent on each other, whether we like it or not, and for that we need to be united one with another. Dictatorships never last; neither coercion, deceit nor unwelcome dependencies. Only a common Truth can hold a family, community or nation together. But in order to build relationships with others, you first need to find that Truth in yourself.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book will be released in July, 2018. It’s called; When Spring Comes Around. It is a story set in Japan during the 2009 financial crisis. I lived in Japan for some ten years and spent quite a bit of my time working in the securities sector. Let me admit that this too is a story based on real events. Haru, an options trader, is about to be assigned overseas, to New York. But as is the policy of the company, he needs to be married before he can go. The problem is that Haru doesn’t even have a girlfriend, and has no experience with women. His boss introduces Haru and the other company bachelors to prospective brides as they sit under the cherry blossoms at the annual Spring Festival picnic. As fate would have it, sitting amongst them is one of the office girls for whom Haru has developed a fantasy. In the end, Haru dutifully marries Reiko, but also begins an affair with Emily. When the financial crisis hits, Haru loses his job, and finds himself exiled to a menial sales position in far-away Akita in northern Japan. There, alone and humiliated, he wrestles with his passions and the burdens of supporting a heavy mortgage and new unknown wife back in Tokyo.
Kuwait is a country where the poor from around the world gather to serve the rich. Ricky, a Filipino, is among them. He left his IT job in China to forget the sudden and violent break-up with his Chinese girlfriend. Seven months on and Ricky gets a phone call from Breeze. She wants reconciliation. Alone in a foreign land, and isolated by an unfamiliar culture and religion, Ricky agrees. He is reassigned to Tripoli, Libya, and plans to meet up with Breeze along the way, in Cairo. From there the adventure begins. Through Saudi, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait, and finally back to China, Ricky and Breeze struggle with the legacies of poverty, dislocation, past loves, and family obligations, as they seek a path to their hopes and dreams. This is the tale of two people who want and need each other, but whose destinies refuse to stay intertwined.
Posted in Interviews
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I Spy with My Little Eye analyses and discusses our changing behaviours as a society. Why was this an important book for you to write?
This book was important for me to write for three different reasons. First, on a personal level, researching and writing this book has helped me think through a number of concerns that have been in the back of my mind for a while about the direction in which our society is heading. As a result of this process, I’m more convinced than ever that I, as a parent, need to make active choices that go against some of today’s societal trends if I’m to provide my children with a sensible worldview and a solid starting point in life.
Second, I find it worrying that there isn’t greater debate about the values and norms underpinning our society. I think we need to acknowledge and perhaps rethink many of our behaviours if we wish to solve some of the symptoms of ill-health that are plaguing our societies, such as stress and anxiety, financial indebtedness and shallow aspirations. It’s difficult to change course if we don’t know where we’re heading. Acknowledging the problems is therefore a good start. I raise a lot of issues for discussion in this book and it’s my hope that it will be used for spurring debates in schools, book clubs and other places.
Finally, as I see it, questions around morality have too often been outsourced to, and monopolized by, organized religion. What I want to show by using the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues is that being religious is not a precondition for being concerned about, and engaging in discussions around, morality.
This book uses a combination of statistics, quotes and recent topics to illustrate various points. I thought the research was outstanding. What was one thing that surprised you while you were researching this book?
On the whole, the data I used in the various chapters supported the hunches I already had about the issues I raise. In that sense I wasn’t particularly surprised by what the data showed. That said, I was still horrified to have my suspicions confirmed, especially when it came to statistics concerning children, such as the large amount of time they, on average, spend in front of screens, and the little time they spend outdoors.
This book looks at some of the problems affecting Britain s society today. Is there a problem that is unique to Britain? What is a problem that is shares with the world?
Although I’m drawing on material mainly from the British context, the issues I’m discussing are applicable to many more countries than the UK. I would argue that much of what I write about are trends found across the Western world. For example, in the first chapter titled Pride I discuss how today’s ‘celebritisation’ – the increased celebration of celebrities – affects the aspirations of young people towards careers that come with fame and glamour. This trend is far from unique to Britain. Seeing, for example, that the reality TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians is apparently aired in 167 countries, I would say this issue is rather widespread.
Also, the role of the West as a predominant exporter of popular culture and information means that the norms and values we experience today in Britain may well be the norms and values experienced across the developing world in the years to come, if they aren’t already.
I think it would be a worth-while exercise to organize cross-cultural debates around the issues I raise in this book. For example, it would be interesting to set up panel debates at universities for students from different countries to discuss commonalities and differences in how they perceive values and norms playing out in their respective societies.
I understand that you currently live in London, but you’ve also lived in various other countries. How has this affected you as a citizen?
I was born and raised in the Northern Swedish countryside and I have moved many times as an adult, both within countries and across countries and continents. For over a decade now I’ve called England my home; starting off in London, moving out to the Essex commuter belt, and more recently setting up shop in rural Devon.
These moves have naturally altered the mirrors in which I see myself in relation to other people and cultures. Each time these contextual mirrors have changed I have had to step out of autopilot mode and take stock. In that sense, I think the many moves have made me wiser and more understanding as a person. They have also added a comparative perspective to my societal observations. For example, I think I have a better grasp of American politics because I’ve lived in both Montana and Washington D.C. And, I think I understand European geopolitics better because I’ve called Sweden, France, Spain and the UK my home.
On the other hand, I would probably have exercised a louder societal and political voice if I had stayed in my home country. Being an immigrant comes with a natural wish to blend in, and to be accepted. Especially after Brexit, I have sadly found myself adding things like ‘my husband is British’ or ‘I’ve been in England for many years’ when I meet new people simply to justify my existence in this country. I must also admit that I’ve had a fear when writing this book that people will think ‘who are you to come here and judge us?’ I sincerely hope the book won’t evoke such feelings.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
In my next book I highlight the Western world’s evaporated trust in politics, business, and international institutions and argue that we need to tackle this lack of trust through greater focus on integrity and honesty in public life. I shed light on a number of the mechanisms believed to induce integrity through interesting (and hopefully amusing) cases from around the world, including whether Donald Trump’s fibbing can be stopped by naming and shaming, and if FIFA’s culture of corruption is finally an issue of the past. My intention with the book is to re-package academic research into an approachable format and let interesting cases bring the theories to life.
The book is only in its research phase so it won’t be ready for publishing for quite a while still.
Which direction is our society heading in? Does it provide a good enough nurturing ground for the next generation to flourish? Is it time we took a good look at our values and behaviour and changed course? Dr Linnea Mills offers a frank discussion about the prevailing norms and values in today’s Britain, interpreted through the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues. She tackles head-on topics as diverse as celebrity culture, work-life balance, immigration politics and economic divisions. This is a book for anyone with a keen interest in society, philosophy and politics. Get inspired and join the debate.
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Phoenix tells the story of Sonam and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. What was your inspiration for this heart-felt novel?
I have been inspired by experience and observation. My family background has been similar, and I have closely observed the lives of urban well-educated women in India. Despite a progressive education and multifaceted skills, they are expected to conform to obsolete family norms and not allowed to make life choices. This is especially true for the year 1983, when the protagonist Sonam wants to extricate herself from an abusive marriage. Indian society then was full of paradoxes: on one hand was the evolution of a knowledge society and unprecedented technological advancement and on the other deeply entrenched dogmatic beliefs in gender stereotypes. Instead of sympathising with a woman who was a victim of circumstances, her family and friends blamed her for her misfortunes and ostracised her.
I felt that this novel confronted gender stereotypes in a bold way. What themes did you want to capture while writing this book?
I have always felt strongly about the unequal playing field provided to women, even in the educated elite class, and the perception that they are appendages to male family members, whether father, brother or husband. Why should women be accorded respect only if they have empathetic men to battle for them? This discrimination is especially difficult to combat since one is pushing against one’s parents and closest family members whom one loves and respects. Through this novel, I wanted to highlight the need to cherish and support daughters as individuals regardless of the presence and status of their life partners.
I felt that Sonam was a multilayered character that was judged by her failings rather than her success. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
While her parents despair of what will happen to Sonam after she leaves her husband and judge her by her failure in relationship, she demonstrates exceptional skills and shines in her workplace as an achiever. Her personality growth from 1983 to 2017 despite all odds illustrates the triumph of the spirit over ostracism, bigotry, negativity and injustice. She is rejuvenated from the ashes, just like the mythical bird, phoenix.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
My next book, tentatively titled ‘A Journey Within’ has a very different story though it also deals with women’s issues. The lives of 16 Indian women of varying age groups intersect when they go on an all-women’s trip to Spain and Portugal. As events unfold during and after the trip, each of them reaches a realization that changes her life forever.
Caught in an abusive marriage, Sonam Aggarwal finds no family support when she struggles to break free. However, with unwavering grit, she makes a place for herself in the world and rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her dead marriage to discover true companionship and professional success.
The evolution of a knowledge society in India that places a premium on human knowledge and skills regardless of gender finally bequeaths her a coveted place in the sun. The novel focuses on the core strength of a woman that asserts her value despite external trappings and women characters who go through their individual struggle with the inevitable challenges that threaten their existence.
Phoenix, a novel, traces the life of Sonam and her upper class family in South Delhi from 1983 to 2017. It highlights the curious paradoxes in Indian society: its global leadership in digitalization contrasted with antiquated prejudices and gender stereotypes.
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Phoenix, written by Arti Chugpai, tells the story of Sonam Aggarwal and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. Sonam is a complex character with beautiful soul, intelligence and integrity. Her presence demands authority, and as the Director of Publishing for a branch in India, she has certainly earned respect and accolades. However, there is a part of her that is broken by a moment in her life that she explicitly calls “The Betrayal”. Her family and friends judge her by her relationship failings rather than her career successes, leaving Sonam feeling lost and alone. Will Sonam be able to rise above the stereotypes and convictions of her family and friends to find true happiness?
Phoenix is a novel based on love, life and conforming to gender stereotypes. It’s the year 1998, and there’s a budding romance growing between a middle-aged business tycoon by the name of Kunal Vats and the main leading lady, Sonam Aggarwals. Set in India, Phoenix explores Sonan Aggarwal’s life through her ever-changing family, relationships, career aspirations and friendships.
The story then flits between two different eras of Sonam Aggarwal’s life, one part telling her life as it is in 2017 and the other turning back the clock to the year 1998. It’s here we learn about her life and the changing family dynamics and reoccurring expectations that seem to haunt Sonam, no matter how old her or her family members are.
It was refreshing to read a novel based on someone who is aged between their 40’s-60’s. Most modern love stories center around young adults in their twenties and Phoenix was a gentle reminder that age is no barrier when it comes to pursuing love and happiness. I enjoyed the sense of realism as the characters experienced a love that did not always result in happy endings. Instead, Phoenix dove deep into a raw and personal kind of love, where abuse, betrayal and forgiveness are all prominent players in the relationship game.
Phoenix also explores the events of Sonam’s life so thoroughly that at times you feel as though you are almost reading a biography of a real person. The novel also went into depth to showcase some of India’s culture, including foods, family life and working conditions. Arti Chugpai’s style of writing is confident and expressive, using strong descriptive words and phrases to demonstrate their points within the plot line. Fitting, considering the main character Sonam is a publisher herself.
Phoenix also brings to light the society changes and gender differences in India, and how things change over a period of time. It shows the difference in expectations between men and women, especially when it comes to love and relationships. Women are considered to be successful if they maintain a healthy, happy family, with their career aspirations and achievements often shadowed by the relationship, falls they have had in their life.
I would recommend this for anyone looking for a novel about budding romance, rising above the gender stereotypes and Indian culture.
Pages: 232 | ISBN: 1543701043
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