Of Mothers and Daughters (Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badami

“I called my mother every Sunday from the silence of my basement apartment, reluctant to tell her how I yearned to get away from this freezing cold city where even the traffic sounds were muffled by the snow.”

The novel opens with this bit of narrative. Kamini is studying in Calgary (what her mother, still in India, calls “that Calgary North Pole place”), but most of the story unfolds in India, beginning when Kamini is only six years old.

Tamarind Mem (published in the U.S. as Tamarind Woman) is the first of four novels by Anita Rau Badami. The novel languished on my bedside table for a very long time, always being resorted to the bottom of an ever-changing pile of books. Then, I picked it up and didn’t put it down until immersion into a life I can barely imagine was sated. It is the story of women, of mothers and daughters and all the complexities those relationships hold (and bury). It’s a story of horoscopes (iffy ones) and memories (steeped like tea). Our protagonist Kamini says,

I was never sure about Ma’s feelings for me. Her love, I felt sometimes, was like the waves in the sea, the ebb and flow left me reaching out hungrily. A love as uncertain as the year that I was born, when the Chinese had marched across the border into India making a mockery of the slogan “Hindu-Chinee brothers-brothers.” That year the price of rice shot up, a grim famine swept across the north, and nothing was the same again.

Not a great beginning for a girl-child.

Like The Painter of Birds by Lídia Jorge and Birds of Passage by Robert Solé (both previously reviewed), Tamarind Mem is a family saga, although somewhat smaller in its reach. These three novels explore place (Portugal, Egypt, and India) and movement away (migration). They are also stories that seek understanding about a character’s place in the family.

Badami probes memory and cultural heritage – and the experiences and values conflict from time-to-time in the mother-daughter narrative. The women, often at odds, are joined by love, stubbornness, and folly too. Men are scarce: Kamini’s father is a “railroad man” who travels all over India and who is seldom home and there’s also the auto mechanic. The men come and go, leaving bits behind. The father leaves a railroad pass after his death. On it, Kamini’s mother, Saroja, travels across India, retracing her husband’s path. Kamini travels to Calgary to study, her sister, Roopa, marries and moves to Toronto; an old nursemaid Linda Ayah and extended family of aunties are left behind.

This is a book blessed with many reviews. What new can I offer? Little…except to pose the question: what is the value in reading any novel? For me, magic lies in the flow of words, of how each story unfolds. I want my curiosity satisfied, to learn a fact and to gain an insight. The story need not to be “hot off the press,” to borrow a cliché, or on any “10 best” list. It needs to show me something I didn’t know I needed to see, needed to understand. Tamarind Mem provides a glimpse into a distant world, migration, the conflict of generations and of cultures, the universally felt experience of mother-daughter impatience, misunderstandings, and love. This story is sensitively and beautifully told, a first novel worthy of a read.

Available through your local bookstore or online: Tamarind Mem

18 Tamarind Mem

Up…up…and away (a weekend for the birds)

Water fowl – Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, an immature Little Blue Heron, and Mute Swans – all put on spectacular shows for me over a couple of afternoons and two misty mornings last weekend.

We left the marina aboard Magic Badger (a 38-foot sailing sloop) on Friday morning and took our time (about five lazy hours) to travel across the Bay of Quinte down through Long Reach and across the northern end of Adolphus Reach to Picton Harbour where we arranged a mooring near the harbour’s entrance. It was a weekend of reading and photography – two of my passions – and the water fowl put on quite a show.

 

Cormorants-swans detail BoQ LR
Cormorants rest near the shore as Magic Badger takes the bend into Long Reach. (Notice the three Mute Swans looking on.)

Cormorants are my least favourite water fowl. They tend to flock to a single area and their guano kills the trees in which they perch. Seldom do you see one or two; they are very social. They’re easily recognized flying low over the water across distances with black, rough feathers and yellow-orange bill; quite big with up to a 33-inch wing span. Swimming they lift their beak in the air looking very snobbish. They rest atop rocks, holding their wings out to dry like Anhinga. This photo was taken near a tree the cormorants are defoliating. The reeds in the background provide protection from predators for the swans, and I managed to capture three of them along with the cormorants.

 

Cormorants-swans BoQ LR-1
View of Prince Edward County over starboard across from the village of Deseronto.

Saturday morning I woke early and crawled out of my sleeping bag and the forward cabin. Quickly I put espresso on to brew and climbed above into a spectacular morning. On Sunday I set the alarm and rose at 6:30, climbed above to enter what felt like a cloud. I could barely see anything. With coffee brewing I took a seat at Magic Badger’s stern, camera in hand. (She’s a 38-foot, 2-cabin and 2-head Beneteau sailing sloop with a fully-equipped galley and large salon; her cockpit is canvas enclosed and I think she’s beautiful. The camera is a Nikon Coolpix P610 that works very well when the situation doesn’t lend itself to a tripod and various lenses).

 

Geese chorus line in mist PEHarbour LR
Like a discombobulated chorus line, Canada Geese lift from Picton Harbour.

 

Watching the Canada Geese in early mornings made me laugh aloud. They swam across the channel from a place hidden behind a point of land over to a weedy shore across the way. I had a good view from Magic Badger’s stern. They honk and honk and honk, calling to each other until finally the last one must say okay in honk language because they all begin flapping and lifting up from the water like a chorus line that can’t get it together.

 

Geese misty morning rising PEHarbour LR
Canada geese lift off the harbour on a misty morning that held dawn’s rosy glow.

Once in the air, Canada geese are graceful as they push the air with their huge 45-inch wing span. I snapped photo after photo as they emerged from early-morning mist.

Geese take-off in mist PEHarbour-detail LR
As the mist dissipated I was able to capture a clearer image of a goose lifting off the water.

 

On Saturday afternoon I dawdled away the hours keeping my eye on a small white heron (the guide says 27 inches) but I was some distance away stranded on the sailboat. It was feeding along the grassy shore and frequently hidden by a row of posts driven into the waters’ edge. Then one of the posts seemed to move ever so slightly; not a post at all but a Great Blue Heron (50 inches) in dark morph. It resumed a hunch stance with its head almost hidden. So it isn’t a great photo of the two, but the best I could do with the limitations of the camera I had aboard.

 

Heron - great blue and little blue PEHarbour

 

Later, at dusk, I managed to catch the Great Blue Heron flying low across to the east side of channel.

 

Great Blue Heron detail-LR

 

Heron - great blue -- in flight misty morning PEHarbour LR
In this shot, we can see the cliffs surrounding the harbour, which makes it safe in a storm.

 

But the crème de la crème is the Mute Swan…and I saw a few, more than ever before as Magic Badger has journeyed back and forth through the passages leading out to Lake Ontario. They surpass the Canada Geese by 10 inches and are far more graceful with their S-curved necks. The adults carry themselves with extreme dignity, hovering and turning quietly toward their young, constantly checking like protective parents.

As we made our way up Long Reach toward Deseronto and our home port at Crate Marine, Belleville, I looked up to see three swans flying. Fortunately I had the camera slung around my neck.

 

Swans over Long Reach YY1 LR-1
With a rush of wings, three swans fly over Long Reach.

 

In a short while – where Long Reach flows out of the bay – a large family swam across in front of us. They were moving toward to place where the first photo (with the cormorants) was taken.

 

Swans in a row BoQ LR

 

Two swans-BoQ

 

Days and nights off the dock and away from the marina are always treats, but this September weekend has outdone them all. It looks as if it will be the last time out this season before the boat goes up on the hard for the winter (like Scrooge, I echo “bah humbug”). But what memories captured in early morning mist and in the dusk of ever-earlier evenings.

 

Reference: Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region

 

 

 

Hot days + cool nights = misty mornings

13 - Sailboats into mist-PEHarbour
On our last morning before returning to Magic Badger‘s slip, sailboats passed through the channel into early morning mist.

I’m a sailor — how thrilling it is to claim the moniker. Twice recently the ship’s captain and I have been out on the water at anchorages and moorings.

I have a new blog (#41) with lots of photos (few words). Take a look and let me know what you think…please.

Just click on the link: Adventures Over Land and Sea

Reading/Presentation/Workshop Descriptions

Kathryn is available for readings of her poetry and fiction, welcoming opportunities to meet with readers and writers at all levels. She facilitates workshops and especially enjoys meeting with writing groups.

Journal-Pen image LR-1

Participatory presentations and workshops include topics such as:

  • Writing Your Passion: Writing Place (Part 1); Writing Character (Part 2)
    • These two workshops are each facilitated over four Monday evening this fall (Part 1 begins September 11, 2017; Part II begins October 16) at the Belleville Public Library. Check out previous posts on “Workshops and Events” (scroll down) for details.
  • Telling Our Stories: Offered as a two-hour presentation, or a weekend-long writing workshop. Participants are provided a handout or workbook of ideas, strategies, and encouragement that lead to inspiration or, for workshop people, a short creative memoir and a skill-set to carry forward. Besides group work and sharing, writers receive individual feedback to guide and direct.
  • Writing Foreign: in this travel writing workshop – a brief two-hour overview to a weekend of trying your hand, to a 10-day travel experience – participants will explore such topics as:

o Finding Your Voice
o Capturing Place
o Writing People and Culture
o Nitty Gritty (from research to the literary toolbox)
o Movement (from the known world into the unknown and back again)

Relevant here is the work Kathryn did in a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-Queen’s University program in development education (1986-1992).

  • Kathryn offers schools and groups two-to-four hour participatory workshop/presentations with “Talking Fantasy Literature” topics such as:

o Fantasy in our Lives
o Portals we Cross
o Through the Unknown
o Magic of Change

This could be followed by a Tapping Your Fantasy writing workshop.

Kathryn taught 14-week-long fantasy literature for credit (through Loyalist College and Ontario Learn online, 15 years). She has also taught fantasy writing at the college level.

Kathryn enjoys traveling, sailing, hiking, photography, and sketching. Born in Southwestern Ontario, Kathryn has lived in Ottawa, Winnipeg, and rural Eastern Ontario. Her home is now in Belleville on the Bay of Quinte. Kathryn holds a B.A. from the University of Windsor and an MPA from Queen’s University, Kingston.

For information about these topics and to discuss others, please contact Kathryn…

email: whiteoaksstudio@yahoo.com

Grief’s Response (After You’ve Gone by Jeffrey Lent)

“If love had a language, he’d realized it would be this, not words or gestures but the mellifluous richness he’d heard that summer evening, anchored between the pair of violins and the bass. The musician seated with his cello tucked between his knees, bent in concentration and intensity of focus that swept and fled, stroked and drew upon man, instrument and bow.”

Thirteen years separate the publication of After You’ve Gone and Doris Lessing’s Love, Again. Surely other novels exist about the discovery of love in later life, but these are  two that stand out for me. When Doris Lessing’s book came out in 1996, it seemed bold. Told in the voice of a sixty-five year old woman who didn’t imagine loving again but who became swept up in not one but two affairs of the heart, the story suggested hope and insight for baby-boomers heading into the seniors’ curve. Recently, I came across Jeffrey Lent’s novel told from a male perspective.

Henry Dorn’s son (Robert) and wife (Olivia) die in a car crash. He is bereft. His two grown daughters (Alice and Polly) try to comfort him but they have their own families and cannot fill the void in his heart. He begins a quest, first travelling to his birth-home in Nova Scotia seeking answers to family questions; then back in New York, he takes a steamer to Amsterdam hoping to discover older Dorn roots and to start life anew. He is lost in the way Rebecca Solnit describes in A Field Guide to Getting Lost: “Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration—how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?” In her book, Solnit explores the question philosophically. In After You’ve Gone, Lent explores it through fiction.

Ultimately, like Love, Again, After You’ve Gone is a later-life love story that plunges into deep waters where discoveries of the self are made. His journey is poignant. There’s the emotional journey of the first year:

The worst moment has not been the anniversary of the deaths, which was a peculiarly quiet afternoon of gentle spring rain, the day so long anticipated that its arrival brought no sudden thrust of grief but rather was almost consolation—in that year he’d passed all number of possible anniversaries that were unmarked and this was another he was helpless against, and the world went on raining….Ten days later he disembarked at Penn Station and porter and trunks in tow hailed a cab and set off for the pier and the Veendam II.

That first year slips by quickly enough. It’s aboard the steamer that he spots Lydia Pearce and where renewal begins:

A woman in the tight knee-length and sleeveless calisthenics outfit suddenly came upon him, loping in a steady slapping of bare feet….She glanced at him as she passed but the glance was empty as if she were looking toward some far distance greater even than the horizon. He…watched her go.

You know where this is going (and it does lead there). While love affairs are as old as the novel itself, Lent avoids clichéd traps. He gives us a beautiful read with a few twists and surprises. This is not a novel for the bereft alone, it offers insight and perhaps even wisdom for each of us into the very human ways of the heart.

17 After You've Gone

Available through your local bookstore or online: After You’ve Gone

Writing Character: Overview

This is Part 2 of the “Writing Your Passion” workshops offered this fall (2017) at the Belleville Public Library. Writing Character follows Writing Place — each workshop facilitated over four weeks (scroll down for dates and prices). During both workshops our focus is on the important connection between place-character-action.

When characters come alive on the page, magic happens – characters become people brought to life by writers’ skills and their art. In “Writing Character,” participants will explore the link between place-character-action. With the help of literary techniques, participants will create characters that “fit” naturally into their stories’ settings. Whether you are a beginning writer or advanced, interested in memoir, fiction or another genre, this workshop will provide skills that will lift your stories – and the people who inhabit them – to the next level.

The overview:

Writing Character -Overview

 

If you’d like to get more out of the places of your stories. Think about joining me at the Belleville Public Library. Time is short: sign up now ((613-968-6731 Ext #2239) or drop in at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, Ontario K8N 3B1.

Writing Place: Overview page

For four days, we’ll talk and write place.

Wtg Place - Overview

If you’d like to get more out of the places of your stories. Think about joining me at the Belleville Public Library. Time is short: sign up now ((613-968-6731 Ext #2239) or drop in at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, Ontario K8N 3B1.