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A YOUNG BROTHER'S SUICIDE, A CLOSE-KNIT FAMILY'S DESPAIR
For those of us whose notions of what a perfect family looks like were forever shaped by the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music, Kathleen Finneran's elegiac The Tender Land, (Houghton Mifflin Co., 304 pp. $24) will come as a revelation. As in the musical, Finneran's first novel is also the story of a large, boisterous, loving family. But there the similarity ends.
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INDIA, THROUGH TIME
Roll up for the magical history tour. John Keay's India: A History, (Atlantic Monthly Press; pp. 559; $32.59) is a book of startling ambition, a trip down five millennia that begins with an enigma and ends with a mystery. The enigma is the prehistoric Indus valley civilization of Harappa about which little is known today and the mystery is modern India, a hodgepodge of a country that is equal parts myth and reality. It is a story that has been told before but rarely with such charm and far-ranging scholarship. Keay mergers the disciplines of anthropology, archeology and mythology and the result is a book that brings alive some of the larger-than-life characters that strode over the Indian landscape. Examples of human foibles, betrayals and grand failures as well as those of nobility, courage and dazzling successes, bounce off Keay's pages like sunlight.
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THE NEW STORY OF RUTH
There are some books that should come with a statutory warning: ``Caution: Readers should only pick up this book if they have a large chunk of time set aside for uninterrupted reading.''
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SUBCONTINENTAL DRIFT
From the Bible to Homer's Odyssey to Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, the journey or quest has been a staple motif of Western literature. Mira Kamdar's Motiba's Tattoos (Public Affairs, pp. 283, $24), is a welcome--if unusual--addition that list.
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HOME TO CALCUTTA, MUCH LIKE A STRANGER
One of these days, a writer will arise from one of India's slums or from its impoverished villages and tell the rarely-heard stories about life in these insular worlds. But until that happens, we must content ourselves with stories by and about India's middle-class or more frequently, about those Indians living in the West. Amit Chaudhuri's A New World (Alfred A. Knopf, $23, pp.224) is a good addition to such fiction. The story line is simple and achingly familiar to those of us who have made America our home but frequently journey back to visit homelands and families left behind.
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THE TAINT WITHIN
It is one of the oldest themes in literature--the corruption of an individual set against the back drop of a corrupt society. Akhil Sharma's debut novel The Obedient Father (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, pp. 282, $23) tackles this theme in a book that is laudable for its ambition, even if it ultimately fails to live up to its promise.
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ALICE WALKER'S BROKEN HEART
Alice Walker's new collection, The Way Forward Is With A Broken Heart (Random House, $23.95, pp.200) is classic Walker--stories that deal with New Age mysticism, worries about nuclear war, and perennial concerns about racism, misogyny and sexism. These are stories that try to suggest a third way--that valorize love and kindness, that call for a truce in the war between the sexes, that imagine a life better than the one we know.
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THE MORTAL TREE
The sugar maple tree across the street from my home has disappeared. In its place is a stump, sans limbs and leaves, just a block of wood standing stupidly on the ground, like a teen-ager loitering around a street corner without any good reason.
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ELUSIVE ANSWERS
We've called him a demon. We've labeled him a psychotic killer. We've called what he did in his apartment a massacre. We've looked to his family for clues, searched his face for motives, dug into his past for reasons.
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ANGELS IN AMERICA
When I first came to this country as a young student, I had numbers on my mind. Test scores. GPAs. How many beers I could drink at one time.
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INDIA DEALS WITH THE FIRES OF RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY
In December of 1992, my family stood on the balcony of their Bombay apartment and watched as the apartment building across the street burned. Eyes wide with horror, hearts beating like fists against their chests, they watched as the flames rose higher, sheltered in the protective darkness of their own apartment from the eyes of the mad mob that danced on the street below.
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END OF COLONIALISM WORTH CELEBRATING
I watched the countdown to Hong Kong's return to its rightful owners with a strange feeling of deja vu.
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