A.R Sara

A breezy & intense eternal teen with a zest for the here and the now

Book Review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

If you are looking for a captivating, warm and gooey read with just the right mix of fragrant spices and a touch of pathos blended in, then this is just the book for you!

What a frivolous, eccentric and weird name for a book! That was my immediate reaction when I heard the name of the book “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. True to its name it was all that and a lot more. Friendship, impact of war, life on a small quaint island, wit, humour and a love for literature are all seamlessly woven together in an old-fashioned exchange of letters to create a pleasant, sunny, poignant and memorable effect.

When a friend suggested this book to me I had my reservations. I had never attempted reading an epistolary novel before. A novel entirely conveyed in the form of letters. How very odd and unusual!? That was my initial thought. A writing style that raised my suspicions about its power to draw me in as a reader.

With lingering reluctance I plodded through the first few letters, trying to sink my mind into the plot unfolding in the form of letters. After nearing the end of the letter from the Guernsey Islander, mentioning the literary club, is when the charm and magic of the narrative began to seep through me unbidden. Soon I was breezing through the book at a steady pace effortlessly piecing together the story from the delightful avalanche of letters exchanged between the various characters. As the letters flow back and forth, a plethora of realistic, spirited and vulnerable characters emerge from a narrative that is whimsical and witty, yet grounded in the harrowing reality of post-war period. The characters’ unique personalities are etched through the distinct writing styles in their individual letters. The letters manage to evoke a myriad of emotions as the content ranges from warm, funny, witty, serious to tragic and moving.

It is a story that is set in the period surrounding the WW2 timeline. With a generous touch of warmth, humor, romance, wit, adventure and pathos, the author effectively strings together friendship and the love for literature and food with the horrors of war and post-war poignancy, trauma and recovery to create a rather startling and extraordinary effect.

The story begins with Juliet Ashton, a moderately successful author and writer of a British humour column in her early thirties. Her life moves at a predictable and comfortable pace, interspersed with some drama, after the uncertainties and destruction brought about by war destroyed her flat, reducing it to rubble, forcing her to move into a temporary residence. To add to the post war return-to-normalcy, she is courted by an American publisher, Mark Reynolds. After having being under a recent spell of ennui, she basks in the fawning attention showered on her by Mark, while she swears allegiance to the current publishing house she is associated with. One that is run by her best friend Sophie’s brother Sidney. Both of them have been a steady and positive presence in her life, since she had made her acquaintance with Sophie, on entering boarding school at 12 years of age, after having been orphaned and proving to be too much to handle for her uncle.

Unexpectedly a letter arrives addressed to her from Dawsey Adams from Guernsey one of the English Channel Islands. Dawsey has chanced upon a Charles Lamb’s book previously owned by her and writes to her to express his delight and keen interest in reading more of the author’s works. This gives rise to a string of letters back and forth between Dawsey and Juliet. She learns the name of the literary club that Dawsey is a part of and the unusual origin of its name, which is the same as the title of the book. A bizarre name that instantly piques her curiosity. She is captivated and requests permission to learn more about the club and its members and to write about it and publish it. It sparks off engaging conversations between her and the other members of the literary club, unfolding in a series of letters as she starts by convincing them of her trustworthiness and promises to keep her writing serious, without belittling the story surrounding the club, considering her main genre till then has been humour. In the process she is introduced to the lovely and eccentric group of members and also hears about an ebullient, courageous and gentle woman who is the founder and driving force behind the literary club, Elizabeth McKenna. Though Elizabeth makes her appearance only as a memory shared in the various letters, yet she leaves a resounding impact and is a tangible and strong presence in the story.

All this serves as a writer’s muse for Juliet, one that culminates in leading her to the beguiling island of Guernsey, the place that is home to the club and its members. It is portrayed as a charming place that was touched by war and loss, yet remains a beautiful island made special by a set of people who infuse their lives and those around them with hope, courage, resilience, laughter and love.

As the story progresses it lingers on the harrowing experiences of war and its effect on adults and kids as relayed by the islanders, balanced with the light-hearted theme of an unlikely and lasting friendship that develops between quirky and endearing characters brought together by the vagaries of war, fondness for Elizabeth, a love for literature in its various forms and food.

A surprising and unexpected special guest appearance by a very eminent author sets ablaze the novel that is already crackling with exuberance and luminosity.

Definitely a recommended read for the heart-warming and unique reading experience it renders effectively.

Looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation of this book to grace the silver screen soon.

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Miracle bloom

A hibiscus bloom from a cutting planted months ago. Beautiful little miracles are made of this!

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Author & Book Spotlight – Lorkum’s Quest

So happy to share that Litventure is spotlighting author A.R.Sara and “Lorkum’s Quest” book from 18th March to 24th March 2018 on their page Litventure and their Facebook group ‘For Writers By Authors’. It is my pleasure to invite you all to the activities that will be conducted there every day of the week starting today.
Looking forward to seeing many of you participate there. Prizes to be won!!!

Click on the below link to participate – https://www.facebook.com/Litventure/posts/2066730663616557

Lorkum’s Quest is available on Flipkart and Amazon https://www.amazon.in/dp/B06XVYD16Q in Print and Kindle formats.

Puppy Chronicles – Kako reacts

Kako the crow, who is a regular visitor, happened to spot Sally for the first time today and the reaction was…lets just say a little over the top.

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Kako cast an unbelieving look before sputtering (which probably translates to hooting with laughter in crow language), wildly gesturing with its wings at Sally and tap-dancing, almost falling off its perch. Meanwhile Sally watched Kako’s bizarre behaviour with rounded eyes, her ears flapping slowly. Then she let out a series of short and startled yelps before whizzing back into the house.

What is it that you find so funny with our little pup Sally, Mr.Kako?

Disclaimer: Just to clarify, Kako the crow here is not to be confused with Kako from The Crooked Crow! This Kako is a rather dignified and respected member of the community and would never resort to the cunning tricks that Kako of Pachaihara forest would… 🙂

 

Puppy Chronicles – Chasing egrets to running marathons to flying free

Taking Sally for morning walks can sometimes turn into being taken for a run. A run that feels like being carried away on a flying spree, free from the shackles of perceptions around the boundaries of space, time, energy and matter. The pics shared with this post come close to conveying the feeling that is quite indescribable really!

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Like today morning, a nice and easy stroll with Sally was interrupted when she spotted an egret a few yards ahead on the grass. She came to an abrupt halt before darting off to chase the Egret. She has graduated from chasing butterflies to chasing egrets I thought. I decided to break into a run to keep up with her and what fun it was! The egret was airborne before we could reach it. But spirited Sally continued to sprint along with me. Soon a sense of well-being pervaded my senses. The fresh morning air weaved through my hair, myriad of fragrances from the colorful spring blooms swirled around me and endorphins rushed through my system. As we zoomed, the muted sounds of my feet and her paws seemingly hardly touching the ground, my quickening breath and drum roll like heart beat, chirping of birds and Sally’s short and quick puppy breaths, all mingled together to form an uplifting symphony of sorts.  In that moment, even though the after-effect lasted only for a few hours, I had transcended all the fears and doubts of being a frail and lethargy-prone human and transformed into someone who has tapped into the endless energy of the universe. Ofcourse it was a blessed miracle that my knees didn’t lock up on me or a stomach stitch didn’t decide to hit at that exact moment, to bring reality crashing down around me.

My mind raced, ahead of my feet, as I imagined training with Sally daily to participate in a marathon. Yes, a real marathon as I see the trend raging all around me, taking the young and the old by storm. What a shift in thinking that is, even if just temporary, to someone like me who prefers to curl up with a book, beverages, snacks and music any time that I could carve out for myself and someone who tends to view any form of exercise with mild disdain.

Whether this becomes a significant checkpoint in my life to transform my resolve to connect more often with the boundless energy of the universe and actually manage to run a marathon…well…lets see!

If you are wondering about the pic, that is from the marvelous movie, The Neverending Story. A children’s cult classic from the 80’s. The pictures feature Bastian and Atreyu flying on the luck dragon Falkor at different times in the film. Falkor is not mentioned as being canine in the novel, that the movie was adapted from, though in the movie it does resemble a warm and friendly dog with large floppy ears and doe-eyes, quite like Sally!

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Falkor Images credit – https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:La_st%D0%BEria_infinita_(film).png

My Grandmom’s Avakai Pickle Recipe

I have been flooded for long with requests from friends and family to share the recipe of my grandmom’s famous avakai pickle. The one that I have been following to make the mango pickle every other year… Didn’t mean to be cagey about the recipe…or maybe I did and just got over the feeling and decided to share 🙂
So here it is…the recipe…raw, uncut, unedited…copied right from the notes of my grandma!
Ingredients:
Raw mangoes (big) –    25-30
sunflower refined oil            1 litre
Red chilli powder-                750gms
Salt powder                         750gms
Raw mustard powder           200gms
Ginger garlic paste                750gms
Asafoetida and Fenugreek seeds(together)                    50gms (first dry roast them separately, carefully so you don’t get them burnt. Then grind them to a powder)
fresh lemon juice                    4 lemons
Jeera seeds                                 2 table spoons
Dried red chiles                      15
Garlic pods(slightly crushed)   30
Dry wooden spoons for mixing  1 or 2
Ceramic jars for storing the pickle – Few
Clean piece of white cloth and white thread
Intangible Ingredients:
A sprinkle of patience, laughter and love!
Procedure:
1. Wash the mangoes and wipe them dry
2. Cut each half into 2 equal pieces and then each quarter into 8 -10pieces. Let them dry for a few hours.
3. Next mix the mango pieces with ginger garlic paste,salt ,chilli powder ,mustard seed powder,powdered asafoetida and fenugreek seeds and lemon juice…mix all the ingredients with wooden spoon and set aside. You might need to add more lemon juice if the raw mangoes are not sour enough.
4. Next pour oil into a kadai. Saute it on low flame with jeera, red chilles and garlic pods. Turn off the stove once it turns slightly brown ( don’t over fry ). Let it cool well then mix it well with the other ingredients using a wooden spoon.
5. Transfer the pickle to a ceramic or a glass jar. Tie the jar with a clean piece of cloth.
6. After 3 or 4 days open it and mix it with the wooden spoon again and cover the lid and store it.
7. Place it in a cool and dry place.
8. Make sure that the pickle is immersed in oil. If there is not enough oil to completely cover the pickle, then heat some more oil and pour in the jar until the pickle is immersed.
9. Transfer a little pickle to another small jar for daily use. Do not take the pickle from the huge jar for daily use.
10. Enjoy

Puppy Chronicles – Car ride

Sally came along to school to pick up the kids. We traveled well prepared…plastic sheet draped on the car floor, her favorite chew toy and snacks all packed, a whole lot of old newspapers, tissues, wipes.

Discovered she has car sickness and it got worse on the way back…and the car sickness I had personally conquered several years ago threatened to return every time Sally retched and brought out more. She refused to get up or lift up her head in the car, except when she was throwing up and I felt too dizzy to get a grip on her to lift her up. Kids were super excited to see Sally though and are confident she will get over the car sickness if we travel more often with her. But giving the car travel a break for now. Later, after a few months will begin with much shorter trips and ease her into longer trips slowly.

Sally retreated to her favorite spot in the house the moment we returned home and fell asleep. Poor thing woke up from her sleep after almost half an hour. And it took another  30 mins for her have some food, water and regain her usual bouncy self.

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Puppy Chronicles – Muddy paws

Sally walks in sporting muddy paws and a twitching nose after some furious digging in the garden. Sometime later we follow her to her digging spot and watch as she resumes her eager digging. The moment we draw closer to her, she dashes off to an over-turned flower pot near by. She brings the lump of soil with tangled roots sticking out, from the pot and drops it into the hole before shooting off to return with a forked stick and places it over the almost covered hole.

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A moment later she settles down next to it and lazily moves the stick and the soil lump to reveal her handiwork or rather paw-work.

My eight-year-old remarks excitedly, “Mom, just look at her! She is going to dig all the way to the core of the earth!”

At the current rate of digging and the mysterious way she seems to be covering up the hole, appears like she is definitely up to something…wouldn’t you say so?

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Puppy Chronicles – Sally arrives

Meet the newest addition to our family…Sally.
A collector of raw potatoes.
A chaser of toads and smasher of tomatoes.
An explorer par extraordinaire, who spares no corner in the house.
Snacks on grass when is she not on the move, guided by her ever-inquisitive sniffing nose! 
Prone to silent mischief though she hardly ever barks.
With a soulful gaze and a calm demeanor, she has found her way into our hearts.
Potty trained in a snap, except for the occasional misses.
Her daily routine is rather simple and neat.
Eat, play, snack, explore, sleep, sneak out to poop & pee, walk, jump, run and repeat…
Yes, we have adopted a sweet and smart indie pup!

She is almost four months old now and she is such a sweetheart! She has blended right into the family, winning our hearts. She is intelligent, well-behaved yet sassy, affectionate, social, and endearing. For the kids, technology time has been replaced with some old fashioned playing with the puppy, taking her for walks. Time spent with her is stress-relieving for the kids and older folks too.28516227_10156313236816209_7114678840614637501_o

Karna’s Wife Vs Palace of Illusions

Has any book made you drop it suddenly? Turned you off so much, after initially enthralling you, that you felt compelled to just stopped reading it and moving on to the next book?

Well, “Karna’s wife” by Kavita Kane, turned out to be one such book for me…unexpectedly.
The narrative is enticing and the language rich with strong imagery. As for the plot it started as an entrancing retelling, re-imagination of a slice of Mahabaratha with the focus on Karna and told from the perspective of his second wife Uruvi.
I got as far as the part where post Uruvi’s Swayamwara, Uruvi is trying to explain what drew her to Karna from the time she set eyes on him.
I remained unconvinced and infact at this stage began to find the dialogues a little jarring. While my mind was already questioning the regressive tone…Uruvi is told that Karna is already happily married with kids…yet she yearns for him…the height of infatuation perhaps? When asked if she was forced to choose Karna, she denies it and her character is shown as completely and totally taken in by Karna’s negative/tragic hero image, his golden looks, his archery skill. Even when Karna casually and calmly states how he lost his son Sudama during the scuffle at Draupadi’s Swayamvara, she takes it in her stride just like that and the conversation moves on smoothly without a single hiccup.
At this point my mind is suddenly screaming…wait…what? Karna already had a child when he attended Draupadi’s Swayamvara, who was killed during that event? Is this true as per the earlier version of mythology? He claims he is happily married and yet turns up at the next princess’ swayamwara, he got the invite for?
Suddenly both the characters, the flow of the story quickly lost the pleasantness and charm and abruptly invoked an opposite emotion.

Maybe the fact that I had already read Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, added to the disillusionment with Karna’s wife.
Ofcourse the book Karna’s Wife offers just another perspective and while I absolutely encourage and welcome this growing trend of portraying multiple perspectives of the various characters from mythologies, and the diverse interpretations, this particular retelling did not appeal to me.

Palace of illusions completely mesmerized me, invoking strong and powerful emotions. In a way Karna’s wife did that too I guess, though not in an appealing sort of way. Probably there are fixed expectations in my mind blocking me from appreciating the story.
Palace of Illusions made me empathize with the characters. That was a fictional interpretation of mythology too. It created a strong base, infusing it with a realistic feel that justified the resulting emotions and the thought process of the protagonist Draupadi and her perception of Karna and others and her doomed tragic love. A perfectly intoxicating blend of the emotions, descriptions, thoughts to match the interpretation of situations, it was.

Btw, I confess I read “Menaka’s choice” by Kavita Kane prior to “Karna’s Wife” and enjoyed that one! Liked the portrayal of the characters and emotions apart from the flow of language and story. I didn’t realize there was so much mythological content around Menaka.

Disclaimer: Just felt like sharing my thoughts, as the way the book effected me, took me by surprise. Actually I am very interested in knowing how others felt about the book, as that would help me analyse my own knee-jerk reaction towards the book. Probably unfair of me to juxtapose Palace of illusions with Karna’s Wife…as that was not the underlying intent here. Please don’t let me influence your decision to pick up the book. Just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, I believe appeal for a book lies in the mind of the reader.

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