Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Louisiana Catch

Readers of this blog know that I'm a huge fan of award-winning poet and novelist Sweta Srivastava Vikram. I've read and reviewed many of her books, including Saris and a Single Malt (2016), Wet Silence: Poems about Hindu Widows (2015), No Ocean Here (2013) Perfectly Untraditional (2011), and others.  I was overjoyed to receive an advanced reading copy of her newest novel, published in 2018, Louisiana Catch, from Modern History Press.

As I started to read Louisiana Catch, I was immediately drawn into the fascinating world of Ahana Chopra, a wealthy, thirty-three year-old New Delhi woman.  Recently divorced from her college sweetheart, Dev Khana, her outwardly charming but emotionally and sexually abusive ex-husband, she's trying to rebuild her life after her marriage ends. Yoga and running help her to feel better and more optimistic, to an extent.  Because of the culture she lives in, she doesn't share the painful aspects of her marriage with others, created by a bullying husband who forced her to have sex, who in fact raped her.  To make matters worse,  her mother dies suddenly, and Ahana is completely devastated and heartbroken.

Although her loss is tremendous and it's hard for her to get through each day, Ahana immerses herself in her work as a women's rights advocate, and even takes on the responsibility of spearheading the upcoming international women's conference in New Orleans, called No Excuse, which is turning into a major event.

"I still wonder how the universe caught two men from Louisiana and sent them into my life around the same time."
~ Louisiana Catch, Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Ahana soon meets two men related to her online activities, Rohan Brady, a handsome colleague who helps her to develop an online presence, and Jay Dubois, who's in her online support group, and is grieving the loss of his own mother.  Ahana and Jay share their grief, bond over lines from The Catcher in the Rye, and become online friends, although they haven't met in person yet.  As time passes, though, Ahana is not sure who she can trust, or if she can even trust her own feelings and instincts.

What a riveting story!  Every page of this novel held my attention. Written in the first person from the point of view of Ahana, the protagonist, the book reveals her thoughts, and she shares with readers the private things that she doesn't share with her family or friends (because they are too painful to reveal). As a wealthy Indian woman, Ahana's blessed with material comforts, but she's not emotionally comfortable.  The author is a very skilled writer, and Ahana, Naina, Lakshmi, and the other characters in this book come to life. Vikram tackles difficult and complex matters, such as the sudden death of Ahana's mother, Mumma, online relationships and "catfishing", and an especially taboo topic, marital rape.  In this book, we learn about Ahana's marriage, and the physical and emotional abuse she quietly endured for years (too many women suffer in this same manner). 

Gradually, with some help from friends and family, Ahana discovers and demonstrates her own remarkable strength and resilience in this touching story of success.  Despite abuse, loss, and various cultural obstacles, the telling of Ahana's story will provide help and healing to herself and other women.  This book is exceptionally compelling, and it's remarkably timely, too.  I read Louisiana Catch at the onset of the #MeToo movement, in October of 2017.  The author is also a certified yoga teacher and the CEO-Founder of NimmiLife, and teaches yoga and mindfulness to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.  I'm thrilled that this book is garnering a lot of attention now, on Amazon and elsewhere.  It's an important and powerful book.

Here are a couple of lovely, joyful photos from the author's Louisiana Catch Book Launch at Lululemon.  



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Many thanks to Victor from Modern History Press for sending me an advance reading copy of  Louisiana Catch free of charge, and to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour.  I'm honored to have read another incredible book by this talented and prolific author.  For other reviews and features, please visit Poetic Book Tours' tour for Louisiana Catch.

Thank you for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

Monday, April 16, 2018

How to Love the Empty Air

How will you celebrate?  April is National Poetry Month, a time to explore and experience the world of poetry.  In honor of National Poetry Month, I read a new collection of poetry by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, the poet's seventh, How to Love the Empty Air, published in 2018.

This book is an intimate, autobiographical collection of poems that depict the author's successes in her work and relationships, as well as the great loss that she experiences when her mother--her "narrator"--dies suddenly.  In these poems, we learn about the poet's life, about her writing career and move to Texas, and about her relationships, especially her relationship with her mother.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book, because it's contemporary--it includes email and texts--it's down-to-earth, and also, most importantly, it illustrates the poet's beautiful, close relationship with her mother, who has died. Each of these poems is like a short story (or more accurately, a mini story) packed with creativity, thought, and feeling.  Although Aptowicz is deeply grieving the loss of her mother, she's able to find some comfort, which she shares with her readers, by remembering and honoring her mother in this collection, in a way that's both personal and universal.  The titles of poems, such as for the opening poem, My Mother Does Not Give Advice, and Moving Means that You Have to Touch Everything You Own Once (never thought of it that way!), and the final poem, Sleeping in Late with My Mother (which ends the collection in a funny and positive, remarkable manner), set the stage for the unique humor found in this collection.  Her mother's voice comes through clearly in these poems, sometimes quite literally, "That's not the picture I want you to see/Use the other one/You know that one, from our weekend together?"  (from the poem, Portraits of My Mother, Far Away from Texas).  The poet and her mother share a special sense of humor. These poems are funny, they are touching, and very "relatable".  I don't know how Aptowicz manages to create poems out of emails, texts, and references to emojis, but she does!  On a personal, related note, having lost my own mother in 2011, I cherish the letters and emails I have from her, and reread them when I crave connection to her.  My mother's words, like Aptowicz's mother's words, contain her humor and her support, and so remain helpful, and present. 

If I were a high school English teacher, I'd choose to read and discuss How to Love the Empty Air with my students, because I think my students would then fall in love with poetry.  But many people, of all ages, are reluctant to read poetry. They worry perhaps that they will not understand it, that it'll be written in formal, difficult-to-decipher language, replete with odd metaphors and similes, bygones from another era. These poems are easy to read and yet full of depth and meaning. I really can't say enough about them!  If you're at all intimidated by the idea of poetry, pick up this book. You might change your mind completely.


Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour, and for providing a complimentary copy of this brilliant book.  To read other reviews of this collection, please visit Poetic Book Tours' tour for How to Love the Empty Air.
 
Thank you very much for reading! Your comments are appreciated.

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