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Author:
• Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Anita Shreve was born in Dedham Massachusetts in 1946 from an airline pilot father and a housewife mother. She graduated from Tufts University. She worked as high school teacher at Amherst College, Massachusetts. She started writing her novels while working. She was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her book “Past The Island, Drifting”.

She then stopped writing fiction in the late 1970s and worked as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya for three years. She wrote for Quest magazine, US magazine, New York Times and New York magazine. She decided to give up journalism and dedicate herself full-time to writing fiction. Her books were translated into many languages and she won The Pen L.L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. She currently lives between Longmeadow Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Anita Shreve wrote several novels :
Eden Close in 1989.
Strange Fits of Passion in 1991.
Where or When in 1993.
Resistance in 1995.
The Weight of Water in 1997.
The Pilot’s Wife in 1998.
Fortune’s Rocks in 2000.
Sea Glass in 2002.

She wrote non-fiction books :
Dr. Balter’s Child Sense in 1985.
Dr. Balter’s Baby Sense in 1985.
Working Woman in 1986.
Remaking Motherhood in 1987.
Who’s in Control in 1988.
Women Together, Women Alone in 1989.

Kathryn is the pilot’s wife and she is the main character of the novel. The story is about her tragedy, her distress, her love, her deceit and her rage, and how she has to deal with the initial shock when she is woken up in the middle of the night by a knock on the door to be told by Robert Hart, the pilot’s union employee, that her husband died in a plane crash with 103 passengers, 10 miles off the coast of Ireland and that there were no survivors.

The novel is divided in two parts, the first half describes in simple, clear prose Kathryn’s struggle to deal with her shock, loss and grievance, while trying to pull herself together for the sake and protection of her 16-year old daughter Mattie, with the help of the kind Robert Hart.

This part holds some hints to prepare readers for what follows in the second half which is full of unexpected painful revelations, challenging Kathryn’s prowess to deal with the truth of her marriage and what has become of it. What appeared at the beginning to be a sad and quiet story turns out to be a gripping one, a thriller combined with the difficult defiance between loss, love and betrayal but also about some hope for the future.

Anita Shreve manages to make a good, captivating read out of a banal, common theme of betrayal and adultery.

Kathryn finds it very hard to bring together her happy memory of a stable, peaceful and uneventful married life in a beautiful home overlooking the ocean in Ely, New Hampshire, a bright teenage daughter, with a husband she cared for dearly, and thought that she knew, with the harsh deceitful reality of who Jack really was. A mixed feeling of grief and danger which triggers her determination to seek the truth at any cost after hearing all the unbelievable rumours, and after discovering various pieces of paper in Jack’s pocket and in his bath-robe with initials and phone numbers which she knew nothing about. She was ready to go through it all even if its outcome turns out to be devastating for her. In any case Kathryn knew that nothing will ever be the same again.

Anita Shreve portrays Kathryn’s confusion and disbelief in switching the chapters constantly from the present with all it’s unpleasantness and cruel devastation, to flashes of the serene, tranquil and more reassuring past. She has masterfully succeeded in conveying Kathryn’s feelings by contrasting the two lives through juxtaposition.

Anita Shreve’s books are often categorized under “women’s novels” due to her acquired art of describing women’s distressful feelings and sensibilities. The Pilot’s Wife appears to be a puzzle that Kathryn tries throughout the novel to unravel piece by piece. She thought she knew her husband but found out that she was living with a complete stranger she knew nothing about.

The readers are aware of that through what Mattie was telling her mother about the rumour that the pilot committed suicide : “Mattie you knew your father.” “Maybe”. “What does that mean ?” “Maybe I didn’t know him” Mattie said. “Maybe he was unhappy”. “If your father was unhappy, I’d have known.” “But how do you ever know that you know a person ?” she asked. What Kathryn didn’t know is that no matter how well you know a loved one intimately, there is always a little secret garden that each one keeps to oneself.

After meeting Muire Boland, Jack’s second wife and seeing their two children, Kathryn was overwhelmed with the sad and crude reality of her suspicion, which led her to drive all the way to the Irish coast, where the plane crashed. She decided to unburden herself from the weight she was carrying by throwing her wedding ring into the sea to join Jack at the bottom of the ocean. She wanted a new start by getting rid of the past and like that the healing operation can take place.

The Pilot’s Wife is an easy, readable book, the style is clear and simple. The plot was progressing well but then the author decided to end the story abruptly leaving a couple of loose threads untied.
The involvement of Jack with the IRA which led to the plane explosion was not explained sufficiently, and the relationship between Kathryn and Robert Hart was left undeveloped.

Anita Shreve was asked in an interview where did she get the idea for The Pilot’s Wife? She answered : “A novel is a collision of ideas. Three or four threads may be floating around in the writer’s consciousness, and at a single moment in time, these ideas collide and produce a novel… I overheard a conversation between a pilot and a woman at a party. Something he said lodged in my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. The thing he said was : When there’s a crash, the union always gets there first. He meant that when there was a crash of a commercial airliner, a member of the pilot’s union made it a point to get to the pilot’s wife house first. There are a lot of reasons for this, the most important of which is to keep her from talking to the press. And there was a collision of ideas.” which produced The Pilot’s Wife.

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Author:
• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born on the 24th November 1961, the daughter of a Christian woman from Kerala and a Bengali Hindu tea planter. Her parents divorced when she was a child. She hardly knew her father, she only saw him a couple of times in her whole life.

“I grew up in very similar circumstances to the children in the book. My mother was divorced. I lived on the edge of the community in a very vulnerable fashion. Then when I was 16 I left home and lived on my own… in a squatter’s colony in Delhi.” She made some money by selling empty beer bottles. Later on she joined the Delhi School of Architecture.

Arundhathi Roy spent her childhood in Aymenem, province of Kerala, she said: “a lot of the atmosphere of The God of Small Things is based on my experiences of what it was like to grow up in Kerala. Most interestingly, it was the only place in the world where religions coincide, there’s Christianity, Hinduism, Marxism and Islam and they all live together and rub each other down. When I grew up it was the Marxism that was very strong, it was like revolution is coming next week. I was aware of the different cultures when I was growing up, and I am still aware of them now… To me, I couldn’t think of a better location for a book about human beings. I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives in you. I don’t think it’s true of people who have grown up in cities so much, you may love building but I don’t think you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth, it’s a different kind of love.”

“The God of Small Things is a very sad book and somehow the sadness is what stays with me. It took five years to write and I keep finding myself making an effort to be happy. A lot of people ask is it autobiographical? It’s a very difficult question to answer because I think all fiction does spring from your experience, but it’s also the melding of the imagination and your experience. It is the emotional texture of the book and the feelings which are real. Even though I think of myself as a writer, I can’t write unless it comes from within.”

Arundhati Roy’s first novel “The God of Small Things”, was published on April 4th 1997 in Delhi and won the Booker prize in London on October 14th 1997. The rights to her book were sold in 21 countries and was translated to 18 languages. Two weeks later, nearly 400,000 copies had been sold all over the world. It has since topped the best-seller lists everywhere. In October 1997 Arundhati Roy became the first non-expatriate Indian author and the first Indian woman to win the Booker prize.

After “The God of Small Things” was published, Arundhati Roy dedicated her time and effort to other non-fiction subjects. She wrote books like “The Cost of Living” in 1999, “The Algebra of Injustice” in 2002, “Power Politics” in 2002, “War Talk” in 2003, “An Ordinary Person’s Guide To Empire” in 2004, “Public Power In The Age of Empire” in 2004, and “The Check Book” and “The Cruise Missile” in 2004.

She also wrote essays, articles and has given several speeches. “Insult and Injury in Afghanistan” in 2001, “War is Peace” in 2001, “Stop Bombing Afghanistan” and “Instant Democracy” in 2003.

In 2002 she was awarded the Lannan Foundation’s cultural Freedom Award “for her ongoing work in the struggle for freedom, justice and cultural diversity.” And in 2004 she won the Sydney Peace Prize “for her work in social campaigns and her advocacy of non-violence”.

She was presented with the Sahitya Akademi award in 2006 for her collection of essays on contemporary issues in her book “The Algebra of Infinite Justice”, but she declined to accept it.

The God of Small Things is set in Aymenem, a province of Kerala, in southern India, in 1969. It is a story of the decline and fall of an Indian family.

After the death of Sophie Mol and the scandal of Ammu and Velutha, the whole family is shattered beyond retrieve.

The story is narrated by seven year old Rahel who moves crabwise, backwards and forwards. In fact it’s a constant shuttle between the twins Rahel and Estha’s past. They learn that things can change in a day and that life can take sometimes an ugly twist. “A few dozen hours can affect the outcome of a whole lifetime” Estha predicted. It took only Chacko’s ex English wife, Margaret Kochamma and his daughter, Sophie Mol, to arrive on a Christmas visit to Aymenem for the tragedy to unfold. Estha will go through a terrible experience with “the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man” that no child should ever experience. It’s also during this visit that Ammu will discover her love to the untouchable Velutha, and that Sophie Mol will drown in the river and die.

The book begins from the end, the whole story is a flash back. The novel tackles important issues like family, race and class. Through the narrator we are confronted with a very conservative society, no one is allowed to break the rules or cross the frontier of long established things.

The novel portrays very varied characters, some endearing and some less so. The description of the landscape is detailed which helps the reader to be transported to Aymenem.

Arundhati Roy’s style of writing is original and unique. She plays with words, repeats sentences, creates her own vocabulary “a viable, dieable age”. “Little Man. He lived in a caravan. Dum dum”.

“For me, the way words and paragraphs fall on the page matters as well ?the graphic design of the language. That was why the words and thoughts of Estha and Rahel were so playful on the page…Words were broken apart, and then sometimes fused together. “Later” became. “Lay. Ter”. “An owl” become “A Nowl”. “Sour metal smell” became “sourmetalsmell”.

“Repetition I love, and used because it made me feel safe. Repeated words and phrases have a rocking feeling, like a lullaby. They help take away the shock of the plot.”

“The God of Small Things” is not just about small things, it’s about how the smallest things connect to the biggest things – that’s the important thing. And that’s what writing will always be about for me…”

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