Dear Mrs. Bird – A.J.Pearce

After reading “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer (this years Pulitzer prize winner), i needed something light, funny and entirely optimistic. Prize winning books are deep but too dark and do take a lot of energy to get through sometimes.

“Dear Mrs Bird” though set in war zone London, is the first book i have come across, which in spite of the war setting, has an exuberance that leaves you happy and optimistic.

“…and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew.” All books focus on deprivation during the war and heartbreak, but this book is about the life as it went on – despite the war. Miss Emmeline Lake, like any other young adult is keen to become a “lady war correspondent” and with starry eyes contemplates her application for a Junior at a well-known newspaper – dreaming about her travels into war zones and active effort to bringing the enemy down.

Her positive spirit does not let her fail, when she discovers that the job is for a woman’s weekly as a typist and she finds herself sifting through letters received from people who are looking for someone to help them with their entirely mundane, day-to-day problems. She feels a connect with some of them – they are lonely and looking for friends. Mrs Bird is a sort of phenomenon at this weekly magazine and someone to be feared. Her list of “Unacceptables” will leave you wondering about what might then be acceptable at all. Mrs Bird does not believe in responding to the queries of ‘young and frivolous’ and is rather scathing and direct in her responses – pointing out quite categorically when people themselves are to be blamed for their problems.

What starts as a one-off impertinence on part of Emmeline, becomes central to the plot of this book. Emmaline takes it on herself to respond to some of these heartbroken, lonely souls – some via letters and some slipped into the magazine innocuously – after all when was the last time Mrs Bird even read the published version to note this minor anomaly.

This book is a story of friendship – Emmeline with her childhood best friend and her room-mate Bunty, of love – Bunty’s with her finance and Emmeline’s with Charlie; It’s a book of an entirely rebellious young girl who is ambitious, independent and yet kind and empathetic; of survival during war and of keeping up the spirit despite the bombs falling around and dear ones dying either at battle front or at home, due to Luftwaffe’s efforts.

Emmeline’s misconduct is discovered when a girl of seventeen runs away with a Polish soldier at her advise and parents blame Mrs Bird. As in every happy book, she finds a saviour in Mr Collins and her best friend and the book ends on a victorious note.

It’s not a frivolous book, but entirely poignant. ” There was something about planning a wedding that felt like one in the eye for Hitler. He could send over as many Luftwaffe planes as he liked, but he couldn’t stop people being in love and everyone getting excited.” People picking up pieces after losing all that is precious to them and yet making a life with what remains.

The Banker’s Wife – Cristina Alger

Optics, Annabel reminds herself sternly. It’s all optics.”

This one line perfectly lays down the plot. When i think about Bankers, it brings the image of well dressed, culturally aware and snooty men and this book, validates the image to the core.

Annabel, our protagonist, is an art connoisseur¬†and a banker’s wife, who finds herself in Geneva, chasing the money-making dreams of her banker husband from New York. The lonely wife, with no working visa, finds herself devastated with the news of her husband’s plane crash. Then starts the unraveling of the secret life he had been living, while protecting her from the truth.

No readers, the husband does not have string of mistresses or girlfriend on the side (though occasional hints of it may make you wonder), but he is deep into the scam related to siphoning off funds for people into the offshore accounts. Swiss bank accounts have been both a source of fascination and mystery to plebeian like me, so when the book goes deep into the private banking world of Switzerland, how can you not strap yourself on to the seat and go for the ride?

The funds of world criminals, in this book the Syrian Assad family plays a pivotal role, intriguing (if any of its true) and disgusting (how can anyone support a tyrant for a few bobs) in equal measure. It’s a world so far removed from the world in which salaried people like me live, that as a reader i found myself lost into the dreams of millions, billions and trillions through this book.

The plot is fast paced and a lot of it predictable with reader separating out the good guys from the bad ones and waiting for the bad guys to reach justice. A bit ideological in the current world, or maybe its just my cynicism which made me feel a bit sarcastic towards the ending. There is not much blood and gore but press plays a strong and positive role. Part love story, part illegal monetary transactions and part politics keeps up the drama throughout. I may not want to ever date a banker or a politician after reading it, but happy to take the huge diamond ring any day.

Overall, an enjoyable read and a great weekend / beach book to bring along! happy reading.

Love and ruin – Paula McLain

“I was dying to write a character as glittering and sharp as Lady Brett from The Sun Also Rises, but since i couldn’t, I would settle for trying to be her.”

The love i feel for some of the characters across hundreds of books, could not have been articulated better. I asked for recommendation to read on twitter, and came across this rather interesting book. If you know enough about Ernest Hemingway – you would know that he was a great writer but a troubled man.

This book encompasses part of life between Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway. Is it the story of either of them – no, is it Gellhorn’s autobiography – again no. This is neither a dry epitome covering Gellhorn’s career as one of the most renowned war correspondent, nor is it totally about the love affair and her marriage to Hemingway. It is somewhat a mix. Book starts with a struggling Gellhorn, trying to find herself and her purpose in life, conflicted between rebelling and yet trying to please her father.

“It seemed imperative not only to be on the move, and feeling things, but also to be my own person, and to live my own life, and not anyone else’s.”

Her chance encounter with Hemingway and deepening of initially their friendship and then something more is mostly from Gellhorn’s perspective. We find occasional narratives with Hemingway’s voice, but it’s mostly Martha’s story and her interpretation of events around her.

Even though, the story revolves around the one great love of her life, the boldness, the independence and the need to be “her own person” shines bright in Martha’s character. Most of us are as lost as she felt, even in this post war world, but how many of us are brave enough to say it out aloud or acknowledge it, even to ourselves. Need to be in control is usually paramount in human beings and yet, Martha came out stronger for having admitted her lack of purpose. She found a purpose with her love for Ernest and seemed lost again when their initial ‘affair’ ended.

“Walking to my room, i felt loneliness and fear come wishing down from wherever they had been waiting. They draped themselves over me, snug and familiar. Filling my pockets and all the spaces inside and out until i though i might have to lean against the wall to stay upright. In moments, I’d been kicked out of love and was alone again. He was never yours, a voice in my head said. But what did that matter? I had lost him just the same.

This book is essentially about strengths of love and then the ruin, end of love brings about. It’s both the beauty and the beast. It shows various facets of human behaviour. Even though you love someone more than life itself, how losing your own individuality will make you chafe,irrespective. How envy and jealousy, maybe hidden, will show up unbidden, when as peers one person does better than the other. The last but not the least, irrespective of how the world might have advanced, the intrinsic thought that a woman should stay home and be the home maker has not died down yet.

I admire Gellhorn. She struggled her way through to be a first class writer – and her struggle was twice as difficult just by the virtue of her being a female wanting to be right in the middle of the war zone. She tried to stay home to be a wife, but her need to be an individual,¬†won. She gave up some things because her need to make a difference was greater and then some things got taken away from her, because she didn’t fit the society mould of what a woman should be like.

“Listen, i wanted to say, when you fell in love with me you must also have been in love with my wings. Love them now. Love me. Love me, and let me go.”