Ladies Coupé

1122258Ladies Coupé is the story of Akhila and six other women that she meets on the train.  Akhila is searching for the answer to the question ‘Can she live alone?’  Traditionally in Indian culture women are supposed to get married and if that doesn’t happen their only other alternative is to live with family.   Akhila has been the breadwinner of her family since the death of her father when she was in her early twenties.  She worked providing financial support to her mother, younger brothers and sister as they grew up.  All the while Akhila was forsaking her life to respect her duties to her family.  One day gets an idea into her head to live alone but doesn’t know if it’s really possible for her. or for in other woman for the matter  So she invents a work trip to get away to reflect on her future as maybe a woman living alone.

Once she arrives in the train, six different women enter the car.  They are different ages and are living completely different lives and social statuses.  Each one recounts openly the story of their lives.  Meanwhile Akhila is using this time to reflect on her dilemma.  Ladies Coupé is a succession of stories of women starting life fresh, wide-eyed and energetic but are slowly but surely faced with the harsh realities of being a woman in modern-day India.  Each story is personalised, saddening, and  sometimes disturbing.  They almost all ring with a sense of frightening reality.

As I was reading I found the chapters to be very long and sometimes difficult to read quickly.  The chapters are full of information, names that aren’t so easy to remember either and it’s difficult to stop before the end of one.  The story is told changing from third to first person frequently, making identifying with the characters a difficult task.  Sometimes I wonder if it was just difficult to relate to them because of the cultural difference.  There were times when I just wanted to fling my book across the room in frustration with what was happening to the women.  I guess that could be considered a sort of relating to the characters.  As I approached the end I was anxious to see how Anita Nair would tie this story up.  Unfortunately she disappointed me because she didn’t have the courage to deal with the ending head on.  She coped out and that was really what made me give it 3 stars over on Goodreads.  As a reader, I needed a concrete ending to match the concrete stories of these women.  Nevertheless, it was interesting to read and discovering a new female Indian author was enlightening.

Anita Nair is a popular Indian writer and has written several novels and children’s stories.  Ladies Coupé, her Anita-nair-portrait-wikipediasecond novel, has been translated into 21+ languages along with her first novel The Better Man, which was published in 2000.  Ladies coupé was rated one of the top five books of the year 2002.  Nair also wrote a collection of poems and a poetry workshop anthology through the British Council.  Some of her other novels are Adventures of Nonu, the Skating Squirrel, Living Next door to Alise, Mistress, and Magical Indian Myths.

11. The White Tiger

Balram Halwai alias Munna is a driver – sarcastic, humorous, critical, angry, and a wealth of information on modern-day India.  He becomes a wanted man after murdering is master.  At no point as a reader was I sympathetic towards Balram.  I believe this was done on purpose.  In spite of everything, Balram does weave interesting tales, which keep you reading to the end.  The White Tiger is an in your face gritty, realistic novel revolving around the tragic life of Balram Halwai and particularly the harsh, slavish life in India.  Weak stomachs abstain.  The White Tiger is full of audacious, enticing, and repulsive smells.  One’s imagination is heightened to the max.

India is painted as a place riddled with poverty, violence. corruption, and contradictions; although universally speaking I think most countries are contradictory and contain degrees of these things.  Reading The White Tiger is like having your face shoved in wet, gooey mud and then having to clean it with a kleenex.  It sticks to you like a second skin.  Some may find it an ongoing complaint of 276 pages and will say it’s one big bore, but I felt I was being instructed about what it is to be an Indian trying to maneuver through this  unkind, violent, corrupt and unforgiving place.  The book carries a lot of themes throughout such as socialism vs. capitalism, family ties, master servant relationships, life in developing countries and its economic effect on their citizens etc.  I guess if I analyzed from an academic point of view you’d have the three conflicts: man against man, man against nature, and man against himself.  I can’t decide which theme is the strongest.

Aravind Adiga’s main desire was to write a book that would entertain readers, not necessarily to make some political statement.  The novel is absolutely brilliant!  It’s a must read.  I understand why Adiga won the 2008 Man Booker Prize.  The White Tiger was so well constructed that I really believe it is a work of art.  On the front cover is written, “One of the most powerful books I’ve read in decades.  No hyperbole.  This debut novel hit me like a kick to the head — the same effect Richard Wright’s Native Son and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man had.”  – USA Today.  When Adiga was asked who were his literary influences he cited Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright.  This is very clear while reading.  They are some of my favorite writers too.  Their novels contain such power and harsh reality that almost makes you feel slightly voyeuristic, but mostly enlightened.  I bought this book a year and a half ago because I had read quite a few articles on this prize-winning novel and it sat on the shelf unfortunately until now.  Wish I would have read it sooner, but I’m delighted that I finally got around to this five-star wonder!

My book club this afternoon had one of the best discussions in a long time.  Seems as if almost everyone enjoyed the book.  We had a few who weren’t so sure but the overall majority was a thumbs up!  One of the book club members stated, “I loved the book but I don’t want to go to India.”

Aravind Adiga and his family emigrated to Australia where he continued studying in high school.  He later studied English Literature at Oxford and Columbia Universities. He went on to a successful career as a financial journalist having written articles for the Financial Times and Money. Subsequently, he worked for Time magazine and went on to write The White Tiger while he was on freelance.  In 2008, Adiga joined the prestigious group of Indian born writers, Salmon Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai in winning the Man Booker Prize.