Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Featuring Joan Clark and Padma Visiwanathan

By Lynn Willoughby

The Birthday Lunch ~ Joan Clark
The title of this novel caught my eye and and it was a nice little read. The story of the family takes place in one week, after a tragedy. In my head I had written a completely different conclusion. However, the real conclusion is also satisfying.
The action takes place in and around Sussex, New Brunswick, a location I have actually visited. The son lives in Bragg Creek so that was interesting as well. Aside from the location, the story itself unfolds rather interestingly as well.
It is Lily’s birthday and while her husband, Hal, had planned to take her somewhere very special for lunch, he has car trouble and can’t get home to pick her up. Meanwhile, Lily’s sister, LaVerne, feels she has beaten Hal by treating Lily to lunch. Why would she feel this way?
The sisters stop for ice cream on their way home and Lily is struck and killed by a speeding gravel truck.
LaVerne is probably the most interesting character in this story – certainly the saddest and most bizarre.  Her entire life has been one of eccentricity, missed opportunities and down right craziness.  She is bitter and very good at casting blame around.
“Secondary to the multifaceted dimensions of love, fear, sorrow and grief, but in play nonetheless: resentments, secrets, regrets and unspoken or unresolved sentiments…” – The National Post
Sounds like any family – right??
  • An Audience of Chairs
  • From a High Thin Wire
………….and others
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao ~ Padma Visiwanathan
What to say about this book?  I quite liked it, but was never really sure who was the protagonist.  There are many stories, many themes, a lot of history and a twist at the end you will never see coming.
On June 23, 1985 Air India Flight 182 en route to London from Toronto exploded, killing all 329 people aboard.  It is now twenty years later. Two suspects of this terrible crime are now on trial. Why has it taken twenty years to get here, and why are only two people on trial?
Ashwin is a psychologist who decides to write a book on grief, and specifically those who lost loved ones in this explosion.  He interviews many of the people who are still grieving twenty years later.  What he never mentions is that he too lost family on that terrible day.  As the interviews procede, Ashwin gradually becomes embroiled in the lives of one particular family and here the book seems to go off the rails.  Or, it is a complete story within a story, and I really liked the characters.  I learned so much about Indian food, culture, customs, ceremonies both in Canada and India.  I particularly relearned much about the partition of India into two countries, and the effect on communities and families.  “West Pakistan was cut from the Sikh’s holy land, Punjab, with a double edged sword. The Sikhs were balanced on the blade.”
The book also weaves in the assassination of Indira Ghandi, and what led to that killing.  From time to time Ashwin realizes he has been derailed and gets back to his writing and his interviews.
Visiwanathan’s writing is superb.  “Only two of the hot-air buffoons allegedly involved in the bombing were standing trial.”  What a description!
For most of the families, their treatment by Canada was almost as appalling as the explosion.  Those on board flight 182 were, for the most part, Canadian citizens – first or second generation citizens!  Yet, the Canadian PM sent condolences to India!!! Neither the RCMP nor CSIS took any responsibility for the lack of security on the flight, and it took TWENTY YEARS to try only two people, and we all know how that ended. This is, in fact, Canada’s largest mass murder – roughly the same, proportionately, to the victims of 9/11 to the American population.  But the brown skin majority of Air India’s passengers resulted in an oddly muted response in Canada.  We should be ashamed of ourselves!  “Pondering our unexamined prejudices might be deeply uncomfortable, but it is absolutely necessary.” – J.C. Sutcliffe in a special to The Globe and Mail.  This is an important book for Canadians to read.
  • The Toss of a Lemon
Who Knew?
Canada only opened its immigration system to Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in the 1960s.  Prior to that there was a $500 head tax on Asian immigrants.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply