Translated from the French, this is 130 pages of the most exquisite and perfect writing. This little book will touch your soul and leave both a lingering sadness and joy at what the human soul can desire and find.

Monsieur Linh is an elderly Vietnamese refugee who has endured a long journey by boat with his baby grand daughter and one old suitcase. He has seen his homeland destroyed by foreign soldiers, his village, fields, buildings and population burnt and killed, including his son and daughter-in-law. All that is left is the baby, Sang diu. Monsieur Linh arrives in a city in France, and is moved to a refugee centre where he lives in a dormitory like place with other refugees. He is lonely, homesick, deeply traumatised, only living to devote his whole self to his care of the child.

One day, having gone out for a walk to give Sang diu some air, he meets Monsieur Bark, an elderly gentleman whose wife has recently died. The two of them strike up a most unusual but strangely beautiful friendship,  as of course neither can understand the other. But both feel the pain and loss in the other, and both are soothed by voice of the other, the body language, the smiles, and genuine attempts at understanding.  Things go terribly awry when Monsieur Linh is suddenly moved out of the refugee centre to an old people's home some distance away. But he never gives up hope or the determination that he and the baby will be ok, and that he will see Monsieur Bark again.

This could be a book set in any time or in any city. It has the universal themes of war, displacement, hope, humanity and love. We live in times where millions of people have been forced to leave their entire lives behind, often having witnessed the murders and deaths of their loved ones. They cross borders to new places with virtually nothing and are simply expected to get on. Books like this one are very important for us to read, to help us have even a modicum of understanding as to the plight of such people. Very very worthwhile, and for maximum effect read in one sitting.



Oh my goodness, after reading this I guarantee you will look at your own relationship in a new and different light, and look ever so slightly sideways at the relationships of your friends, families and neighbours. Yes, I know, it is fiction, made up and all that, but this is very spooky, with enough razor sharp twists to put you into hospital for abdominal surgery just to unravel it all. Rest assured though, that our main characters, Nick and Amy Dunne, are not normal. Behind the facade of loving, devoted, perfectly suited (or are they) and fully functional married couple, lies a narcissist, a sociopath, possibly a border line schizophrenic, and any combination of the aforementioned. And how do we know that the person we bond so lovingly with is not also of similar tendencies? This novel is all about that - the side of ourselves, real or otherwise, that we present to our spouse, our family and our friends. And ultimately to ourselves.

On the morning of Nick and Amy's 5th wedding anniversary, she simply disappears, apparently kidnapped from her home while Nick is at work. The couple have been living in Nick's home town somewhere in Missouri, having moved there (Amy reluctantly and Nick resignedly) after job losses in New York following the recent global financial crisis. She does not have a job, and with his twin sister, he is struggling to run a local bar. Things are tough for them financially and the stresses, unsurprisingly spill over into their marriage.

Suspicion over Amy's disappearance naturally falls on Nick. The story is narrated in alternate chapters by Nick in the present, and by way of Amy's yet to be found diary. But which is the truth? Despite his claims of innocence, Nick seems to show very little distress or concern for Amy's whereabouts, and if he is innocent, then where is she? It is a very tangled web, and I really can't say anymore about what happens because the twists and turns are what keeps you going when reading this. You simply have no idea at all where you are going to be taken next, or what surprise the next chapter will reveal.

It is very clever, very well done, and almost 500 pages of compulsive reading. Riveting. The twists keep coming, right up to the last page.  I want to say more, but I can't, you will just have to read it! All I can say is ...marriage - be afraid, be very afraid. And with 15,000 odd reviews on Amazon, you know this book has left some big impressions.



Didn't we just love the movie Slumdog Millionaire! Heavily based on this author's first novel, Q&A, it gave us a glimpse of what contemporary Indian society and life is like. Controversial because it didn't show things in a positive light, this movie and book introduced many of us to the huge extremes in wealth and living standards, corruption, exploitation of women and children, Bollywood, rackets, and the power of good over evil. Q&A is an absolute page turner, well written, great story, and believable characters and very deserving of all its success. You could almost believe such a story could really happen. Plus, anything translated into 44 languages has to be a tale of universal appeal.

This latest novel is the author's third, and follows much the same themes and way of storytelling as the first one. His Jamal is Sapna, a young woman from a very middle class family, with an honours degree in English, who lives in Delhi with her unwell mother and younger sister. As the breadwinner for the three of them, she works as a salesperson in an electrical applicance store, a job she loathes, with people she doesn't like, but which she can see no way out of.  One day, completely out of the blue, she is approached by one of the wealthiest men in India. Bizarrely, he wants her to take over as CEO of his conglomerate, provided she passes seven life tests. Sound implausible? It is. 

Sapna eventually agrees to be his 'apprentice' and over a period of months the seven tests take place. Are these tests random events or are they contrived by the billionaire?  During the tests Sapna discovers that she has the qualities of integrity, courage, leadership, foresight, resourcefulness and decision making - all of which her benefactor is looking for. Much like Jamal in Q&A, during this testing time, she comes up against various facets of modern Indian society -  Bollywood and the casting couch, an arranged marriage in rural India, police corruption, a kidney donor selling racket, child labour, and reality shows. At the same time she is trying to hold onto her job, and deal with a myriad of dramas within her family. 

The seventh test, however is quite a different kettle of fish from the others in that her life depends on passing it. It is at this point the book moves up a gear or two to become a real page turner. A satisfying conclusion is reached, naturally, but an alarming number of coincidences, set up at various stages during the book, occur to make this happen. Much like in classic fairy tales really!

And I think that is the key to enjoying this story. It is a modern day urban fairy tale, and I don't think you can see it any other way. There is the plucky smart young thing, a strange fairy godmother like figure, a possible prince, annoying family members, strange and unexplained events and encounters, evil and good. Great package. It is not, however,  as well written a story as Q&A, not as tightly plotted and not as well rounded. It is almost as if the author is trying to replicate the formula, but he has hurried the process and left it a bit loose and untidy.

I also found the character of Sapna very annoying and unrealistic. Male author writing about young woman - not the easiest transplant. I might be speaking out of turn, but I doubt very much if there are young women in India like Sapna. As a sheltered middle class girl, I really don't think she would have the life smarts or worldliness to deal with most of the people she encounters - most of whom have some sort of hidden agenda and, who we as the readers immediately know are going to be trouble. But like I said, it is a fairy tale...  The other thing that bothered me - the India in this story is too clean. In Q&A, we got a sense of the poverty, the desperation, the squalor, the random ugliness of the lives of the majority of the population. The author touches the surface, for example the arranged marriage or the kidney racket, but it is not raw enough.

Nevertheless, this is a good bit of escapism, easy to read, and no doubt will be a movie one day too.



There is no getting away from the fact that this is a huge book - huge in its word volume, huge in its wonderful use of the English language, huge in its scope, huge in its characters, in its styles of writing, huge in its diverse use of magic realism, and just like the huge country of India - completely chaotic.  For all these reasons this has to be one of the most frustrating, difficult, annoying and crazy books I have ever read. I never thought about giving up, but I did have to relook at how I was to read and absorb this thing. After taking about 2 weeks to read about 100 pages I decided I had to treat this tome like a project. So I found some study notes on line - good old Sparks - and set myself the target of doing the thing chapter by chapter. It worked - nothing like taking small steps to achieve the end goal, and I am pleased that I saw it out to the end. But definitely not a book for the faint hearted.

So why did I persevere? Having lived in India for a short period of time, and being there when it celebrated 60 years of independence, this book has been on my very long list of must reads. And Salman Rushdie, as the winner of two Booker Prizes, as well as the Booker of Bookers, plus being considered one of the most influential and controversial writers of the twentieth century, is an author I felt I should read. When in India I had read the really quite amazing book he wrote for his young son from whom he was separated while in hiding after the fallout from 'The Satanic Verses'. 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories' is one of the most stunning stories I have read - it really is magical and an absolute gem to read with a child.

So I thought 'Midnight's Children' - should be a doddle. Oh no, how wrong I was! There is so much of 'Haroun' in 'Midnight's Children' - the guy is a genius with his word pictures and his captivating writing. It is mesmerizing to read. But there is just so much of it that it is hard at times to keep track of the story, or where the characters are, even who they are and what they are doing.

Midnight's Children are the children born between midnight and 1am on the night of 15 August 1947. (Salman Rushdie himself was born in 1947.) The first born baby was Saleem Sinai who is the main character, either as the narrator or being narrated about. There were 1001 (as in the Arabian Nights - the book is a tsumami of symbolism, drawn from the 300 million Hindu Gods, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, Indian mythology) babies born during this hour who are all blessed with some sort of magic power. Saleem, being the closest to midnight has the greatest powers of all - the ability to reach into the minds of all the others and communicate with them. The story of Saleem and his family parallels the story of modern India/Pakistan/Bangladesh from the end of World War I until the 1980s. It also traverses huge portions of the India subcontinent beginning in Kashmir, moving to Delhi, Agra, Bombay, Pakistan, Bangladesh and various other places. The transition from British colony to fully independent and functional democracy has not been easy or straightforward, and the book is full of the darker chapters in modern India's history - Partition itself, ongoing Muslim/Hindu conflict especially in Kashmir, the Bangladeshi war, Prime Minister Ghandi's sterilization programmes and suppression of opposition elements.

It is not a pretty story. But nevertheless I am glad I have read it, it has further broadened my understanding of this extremely complex region and population  known as the Indian sub continent. If you decide to read this - take some notes with you.



Review Copy kindly supplied by Victoria University Press, via Booksellers New Zealand.

I can't think of a single author writing today who could garner the intense media speculation surrounding their imminent demise that Thomas Hardy attracted in January 1928. So famous and popular and revered was this man that there was a very bitter dispute between the locals and the literarti over where he should be buried - at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey or beside his first wife in parish of Stinsford where he was born in his beloved Dorchester.

The death of Thomas Hardy and the furore surrounding it are the subjects of this latest novel by highly regarded, award winning New Zealand writer Damien Wilkins. Thomas Hardy, who died at the very grand age of 88, was probably England's greatest living author at that time. Author of such classics as Far From the Maddening Crowd, The Mayor of of Casterbridge, Tess of the Dubervilles and Jude the Obscure, he had in the previous twenty years or so returned to writing poetry. Much of his poetry deals with his first wife Emma, who he seemed to have a tortured love-hate relationship with, as well his love of nature, his preoccupation with man's suffering and life's disappointments. And these are the major themes that permeate through this carefully crafted and beautifully written novel.

The story is not so much about Thomas Hardy himself, who is lying in his bed, death imminent, but more about the people directly affected by his passing - those living at Max Gate, his much loved house that he designed and lived in for over 40 years.  And let us not forget Wessex, Hardy's devoted terrier.  The story is narrated primarily by a maid of the house, Nellie Titterington, but also moves gracefully to and fro between Nellie, second wife Florence Hardy, his executor Mr Cockerell, his elderly brother and sister, the author James Barrie and several other characters who may or may not have been real people.

So what does one do when waiting for a loved one to die? One reflects on life with the loved one, and this is what the main characters do. Particularly Florence who was initially a secretary to Mr Hardy and then married him on the death of his first wife Emma. Florence, considerably younger than Thomas is a fairly tortured soul. Never feeling fully accepted as Thomas' wife due to her youth and what would appear to be Thomas' shortcomings in the sensitive husband department, she is doing her best to walk the fine line between keeping her husband's final wishes - burial locally, and keeping the public happy - privacy vs celebrity. Nellie is her maid, and so is privy to Florence's emotion and distress. She, in turn, has to maintain the fine line between maid and confidante, in view of the uncertainty of her own fate once Mr Hardy dies.

There are a number of other 'fine line' relationships and situations in this novel - Nellie's relationship with a young reporter Alex Peters; Alex himself desperate to be the one to have the first scoop on Hardy's death and yet, as a local, wanting to protect him from the likes of Cockerell and Barrie; Florence's own relationship with Barrie;  a conversation between Barrie and the doctor over what is more important, the brain or the heart; being a celebrity vs the need for privacy. Interspersed through the novel are many of Hardy's own writings, in particular his poetry, that Wilkins has referred to in his note at the end of the book.

I don't really know anything at all about Thomas Hardy or his writings, and have only seen a 2008 BBC TV adaptation of Tess of the Dubervilles, which was about as gloomy and awful and sad as you can get. It doesn't compel me to read any of his novels, but his life was certainly interesting and one of deep introspection. There is some very beautiful writing in this book, and I certainly think his poetry is worth a look. There is a lot going on in this novel of just over 200 pages, and really, I have barely scratched the surface. Much like Thomas Hardy really - full of hidden depths.