The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible by A.J. Jacobs
rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this book, aside from a humorous tour of the Bible. I was pleasantly surprised to find an honest, if at times irreverent, attempt by Jacobs to not only follow the Bible as literally as possible (something we discover quite early on is not necessarily as plausible an option), but also to get into the mindset of someone who does follow the Bible out of conviction. Being Jewish, Jacobs spends more time on the “Old Testament” section, grappling, much like his Biblical namesake did, with the divine and the heritage of his ancestors, whether the few generations in recent memory or the Biblical forefathers.
His quest is a bizarre one at times, but while he draws humor out of the whole project, it also showcases what it is to deal with the idea of Divine instructions for living, something I was able to identify with extremely well given the road I traveled on my way to my conversion to Judaism. I also very much appreciate that Jacobs never mocks, even when dealing with ideas that simply do not match the furthest lengths he is willing to stretch his mind; that respect is what makes this book and saves it from the disaster it could have been. Jacobs’ journey shows that you cannot grapple with the Divine and come out unchanged, but it also shows that we each have our own path to take when it comes to our relationship to the Divine and that each path is a valid one.
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Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is easy to see why Lahiri won critical acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize with Interpreter of Maladies: these are stories that resound with emotional punch, unhindered by gimmicky prose or twisted plot devices, laser-focused explorations of the human condition. Though Bengali immigrants are Lahiri’s predominant type of characters, we also get a couple of stories set in India, where we get to see a glimpse of the society the other characters have emmigrated from. This is the kind of book that anyone can read and get lost in, and in fact, everyone should.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a fantastic novel by a talented writer. To me a good book is characterized by two things: it makes me want to read more from that author, and it makes me want to write as well, reminds me of the magic of the written word. The Namesake accomplishes both.
Anyone who is an immigrant, or can still identify with their immigrant heritage, is sure to connect with the story of the Gangulis, whether they are the immigrants themselves or the first generation of Whatever-American. Lahiri’s simple prose gets to the emotional point of each sentence without making it sappy or heavyhanded; you truly come to care for each member of the family and their own struggle, and especially for Gogol, whom you learn his past and present and surrounding circumstances straight from their own point of view. There is no gimmick here, no surprise revelation, no conspiracy of any sort, just a straightforward story of lives lived between two sides of one self, and the reprecussions of lives split in two, whether the parts are old/young, male/female, Bengali/American, past/future.
After reading The Namesake there is no doubt left why Lahiri is hailed as one of the best new writers in modern American literature, why we suddenly care so much about the lives and dreams of the Bengali-Americans that inhabit her stories: in many ways, they are us, and we are them, and Lahiri is slowly showing that truth one brilliant book at a time.