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1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke; white)
3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

1. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
Description (via publisher's website): The setting is Sri Lanka, 1980, and it is the season of monsoons. Fourteen-year-old Amrith is caught up in the life of the cheerful, well-to-do household in which he is being raised by his vibrant Auntie Bundle and kindly Uncle Lucky. He tries not to think of his life “before,” when his doting mother was still alive. Amrith’s holiday plans seem unpromising: he wants to appear in his school’s production of Othello and he is learning to type at Uncle Lucky’s tropical fish business. Then, like an unexpected monsoon, his cousin arrives from Canada and Amrith’s ordered life is storm-tossed. He finds himself falling in love with the Canadian boy. Othello, with its powerful theme of disastrous jealousy, is the backdrop to the drama in which Amrith finds himself immersed.

My Impressions: I really enjoyed this book. I felt the author really captured that extreme intensity of feeling that teenagers experience and also the characterizations, especially of the main character in some of his actions; he and the reader can see the wrongness of certain actions but also understand the impulse to act that way regardless. I also really liked the detailed descriptions of everything - the bustling market, the day-to-day lives of the main characters, an important scene between the main character and one of his sisters, the changes to the ocean and shoreline during a monsoon. The book is billed as a young adult novel but it's very readable though being in my mid-twenties, I'm not very far removed. With this and his anthology (Story-Wallah! A Celebration of South Asian Fiction), I will definitely check out more of his work.

2. Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch by Dai Sijie (translated by Ina Rilke from French; white translator)
Description (via publisher's website): Having enchanted readers on two continents with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie now produces a rapturous and uproarious collision of East and West, a novel about the dream of love and the love of dreams. Fresh from 11 years in Paris studying Freud, bookish Mr. Muo returns to China to spread the gospel of psychoanalysis. His secret purpose is to free his college sweetheart from prison. To do so he has to get on the good side of the bloodthirsty Judge Di, and to accomplish that he must provide the judge with a virgin maiden.

This may prove difficult in a China that has embraced western sexual mores along with capitalism–especially since Muo, while indisputably a romantic, is no ladies’ man. Tender, laugh-out-loud funny, and unexpectedly wise, Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch introduces a hero as endearingly inept as Inspector Clouseau and as valiant as Don Quixote.

My Impressions: I didn't know what to make of this book and am surprised I finished it. The quest is highly problematic and the book itself is often just ridiculous, either in situation or in the characters' actions and other times, it's almost like an encyclopedia, with the narrator explaining some aspect of Chinese culture, though when those sections come by, I feel like I'm reading a tall tale, from the tone and the parts that came before. I was not very interested/invested in the main character's problems or misadventures; I wanted to know more about the women in his life - his "sweetheart" in prison (though at times, I wasn't sure if she even existed and wondered if Muo just made her up) and the two women he tries to enlist to help him. The ending felt strange and like giving Muo too many undeserved chances.

3. Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
Description (via publisher's website):
Seven years ago, Vivek ‘Vicky’ Rai, the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, murdered Ruby Gill at a trendy restaurant in New Delhi simply because she refused to serve him a drink. Now Vicky Rai is dead, killed at his farmhouse at a party he had thrown to celebrate his acquittal.

The police cordon off the venue and search each and every guest. six of them are discovered with guns in their possession and are taken in for questioning. Who are these six suspects? And what were they doing in the farmhouse that night?

In this elaborate murder mystery we join Arun Advani, India’s best-known investigative journalist, as the lives of these six suspects unravel before our eyes: a corrupt bureaucrat; an American tourist; a stone-age tribesman; a Bollywood sex symbol; a mobile phone thief; and an ambitious politician. each is equally likely to have pulled the trigger. Inspired by actual events, Vikas Swarup’s eagerly awaited second novel is both a riveting page-turner and an insightful peek into the heart and soul of contemporary India.

My Impressions: Similar to Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch, there were some problematic aspects but I did enjoy the "travelogue" parts though those were definitely tempered by the tragedy the characters experience. I thought that some of the characters were underdeveloped, to the point where they're basically caricatures. But thinking back, I don't think this is a character-driven book; it's mostly trying to speak about aspects of Indian society.

I think it's hard to balance the light and dark tone in a book the way the author tried to here. I think for me as a reader, it felt like there was no time to process the negative events; so many people are hurt or are killed. I'm just glad that in the story, enough people are kind, helpful or hopeful. Not sure if I decided the overall tone worked but the book is certainly thought-provoking. I can't help comparing it to The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. That was a book intended to be funny and tragic too and I think it balanced the tone better somehow even though its tone was darker. I think it felt like in The White Tiger, there was more showing rather than telling, whereas in Six Suspects, it could feel there was a lot crammed in and not enough time to really get into it all.

On another note, this book kind of read/felt like a screenplay or like it would work as a movie. Not sure if that's good or bad. On a shallow note, I really liked the vibrant colours of the cover.

4. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
A lot of people have read and reviewed this series so I won't get into it except it was fun to see bits of my Toronto. My main impression is that the movie seems to have followed the book very closely and I enjoyed the movie.

5. The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh
Description (via author's website): A saga of flight and pursuit, this novel chronicles the adventures of Alu, a young master weaver who is wrongly suspected of being a terrorist. Chased from Bengal to Bombay and on through the Persian Gulf to North Africa by a bird-watching police inspector, Alu encounters along the way a cast of characters as various and as colorful as the epithets with which the author adorns them. The reader is drawn into their lives by incidents tender and outrageous and all compellingly told. Ghosh is as natural a weaver of words as Alu is of cloth, deftly interlacing humor and wisdom to produce a narrative tapestry of surpassing beauty.

My Impressions:
I liked this book but I'm still processing it. One situation that stood out was the arrangements after the death of one of the characters. She died in a remote community and therefore several aspects of the Hindu rituals could not be performed properly. The disagreement between one character who was trying to make do and another who insisted on doing it properly and the ignorance on both their parts was funny but also resonated with me, despite not being religious.
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