Tuesday, February 21, 2006
If a book is short and carries choice verse, few would leave it to a second sitting. Miami author Nadia brown instantiates this assertion in her first book of poetry Unscrambled Eggs (Publish America, Baltimore, 2005). A collection of sixty poems, Unscrambled Eggs is an artistic pluck in the floating stillness of mundane thought. A daring, dissenting return to self-respect is the upshot of Miss Brown’s poetry.
The individual poems in the book are short, each centered closely on a distinct point. Tone varies from aspiring to confessional, though never leaving the self-conscious position of a deserving soul in the broad social milieu. Themes explored are more humanistic, less illusory or sentimental, and crucial to one’s self-esteem. Social injustice in Sea of Poor (in a country of gold and ledger, lies a sea of poor), self-respect in The Lesson Learned (Yet I exceed, your scant recognition) an urge on poet’s art to be more than mere words in Liquid Muse (what good are handsome metaphors, when profoundness eludes your pen), the nature of skin-deep, lie-loving love in Unforeseen Affair (it was not maliciousness, that hastened you away, but truth), and many vital issues are taken up in a mere 70 pages.
Unscrambled Eggs defies the conventional, the prejudiced, and whets the human spirit with determination, hope, unyielding fidelity to one’s purpose, and confession of one’s own fallibilities. There is a strong penchant for a purpose in life, at times growing morose. But the poetess never fails in keeping hold of the softness that opens the reader’s unbiased ear. This is achievement.
The degree of freedom with which the themes involve us is maintained in the lack of absence of end rhymes, reinforcing the mode of free, unprejudiced writing. Alliteration is not ardently employed and rhythm solely bears the characterization of verse. Nevertheless, the balance is secured. Cadence is not perfect but melodious and smooth. A quality that cannot go unappreciated is the feeling of fullness in each and every poem; no brusque truncations.
The crux of Miss Brown’s book is enmeshed in two poems sparkling with brilliance. Suppose glances wistfully at the irreversibility of time and its damage.
‘imagine life as a chalkboard
where errors are erased’
And certainly, the title poem Unscrambled Eggs pictures the ‘holes of the size of mountains’ each of us has in his or her life. How assiduously we try to refill them, the task is no easier than unscrambling eggs.
‘but when will I learn
I can no more unscramble eggs
Than change the past’
Unscrambled Eggs is a gift to poetry lovers.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Veteran psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff ventures to spotlight practical Energy Psychiatry, her expertise, a blend of traditional medicine and subtle energies of body and mind in her latest book Positive Energy (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005). Grounded mainly in the deep-rooted mystical traditions, Energy Psychiatry is a scientific transformation of abstract energy principles for the treatment of a range of everyday problems like anxiety, maladjustment, mood swings, sexual discontent, and the general stresses of life. That makes Positive Energy a book for almost everyone.
Dr. Orloff divides her book in two parts: Building your Energy and Creating Positive Relationships and Combating Energy Vampires. The first part offers seven prescriptions each showing a window to utilizing and boosting one’s subtle energy resources. The second part involves three prescriptions on creating positive relationships, tackling energy-draining people (the Energy Vampires) and tuning in to the abundance of joy all around. Personal experience and stories of her patients make an interesting vista of healing with positivism. What attracts more, perhaps, is the voice of celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis, Larry King, Shirley Maclaine, and others commenting on their encounters with energy-draining situations. The essence of Dr. Orloff’s advice is her emphasis on staying in the Now that can be procured by some simple exercises, meditations, and mantra.
Given all the good points of the book, Positive Energy has its slack slots. The subject matter is not free of serious speculation. Myths of flowers blooming on the statue of a goddess in South Korea and intuitive premonitions of energy-sensitive people raise doubts. Some of the personal stories are redundant and sound like thrumming on the same string. The narrative mode too feels rather preachy with repetitive reminders of ‘I’ll teach you’, ‘I’ll show you’, ‘You’ll learn’ and so on. Above all, it is the view of existence through the hazy Lens of Energy that puts the author’s viewpoint to question.
A reference guide, brief overview, and an index aid the reader with choice passages.
Positive Energy’s interested readership is wide and varied. For a Type A person, it is a thing to seek. For a hard-shelled scientist, it is one to answer.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
The distinguishing merit of Michael Ehrenreich’s first novel Amaranth (iUniverse Inc, Nebraska, 2005) is its striking modern realism. A rich imagery of modern city environment, modes of life, and tearing stresses of disease and ugliness make Ehrenreich’s literary fiction a 21st century classic.
Amaranth bears a mature plot. The first 50 pages reveal so much that it’s hard to anticipate the thematic passages as something still on their way. But more comes than one can anticipate. One can tell from the start that the story is nucleated around disease and ugliness, both physical and beyond. Dr. Bing Denton is a surgeon with magic hands who is struggling to save his professional life by putting up with the ugliness of surgical procedures and his family life by trying to be a husband and a father. Standing at the dichotomy of hurting and healing, Dr. Denton finds his teenage daughter, Liza, pregnant in a drug-induced coma. The surgeon extraordinaire has a mind left that presses on itself to remember any of his wife’s friends who might tell him how to reach her and tell her about their child. So much for the sickness of life!
The issue raised in the novel is the quest of beauty by one engulfed in a hollow of ugliness. True beauty must be found and at once since ugliness is contagious as flu. The latter spreads through individuals while the former sweeps generations. And so we meet Ehrenreich’s symbol of beauty amid the sickness, the artistic Deborah who is going to lose her breasts and beauty to cancer. How she heals is the modern-day miracle, the amaranth, of Ehrenreich’s work. As one approaches the end, it gets harder to take the eyes off the spell woven in print. Spiritual self is probed with the lancet of words, an art peculiar to the author’s own experience in medicine.
The feeling of continuity in the narrative is one thing a good novel needs. In Amaranth the absence of page breaks and numbering or naming of chapters attains this, at least in part.
Amaranth’s audience is a mature, thoughtful, sensible adult who is ill at ease with the horrors of disease and ugly attitudes, a heart that seeks beauty in its pure form.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Twenty years of Dr. Garland Roper’s experience as a psychotherapist have consummated in the from of a deeply disturbing, insightful, and healing book ‘Hidden Grace’ (Cliffside Press at OMNI, Maine, 2005). A literary novel, a psychological study of psychosexual torture and depression, a case against inhuman foster neglect, and a life-giving look at one woman’s courage in the face of brutal abuse, the merit of ‘Hidden Grace’ is hard to encapsulate in a single instance.
We meet old Grace Albright who revisits her middle-aged therapist Dr. Carl Wilder, a struggling modern-day Sisyphus wrestling with his ‘rock’ of confidence as a therapist, to help her write a book about their therapy. Dr. Wilder narrates memories of Grace’s writings telling, in her words, the story of her early life in foster houses. As Grace opens the chapters of extreme sadistic torture at the hands of her foster families, Dr. Wilder’s depressive view of his own life transforms positively. Together the therapist and the patient rise from their tombs and become living persons in their own flesh, no more given into the torture of slavery.
‘Hidden Grace’ may well be seen as a detective story in literary style. Grace’s unwillingness to speak of her torture kindles the curiosity from the prologue and keeps the flame aglow till the very end of the book. The development of her character, her self-concept as a sinner against herself, challenges notions of established moral concepts. The distinction between sinner and victim of sin is diffused until Grace makes Dr. Wilder (and the reader) see the light.
The language of Gar Roper’s narrative is anything but professional. More important is the narrative device, a combination of first person in Grace and Dr. Wilder’s voices, and Grace’s writings. Events are seen at once through the eyes of both the doctor and her patient. This chimes in with the theme of the novel, a story of participant roles integral to the therapy in question. The discovery and revival of the innocent and loving Grace is accomplished through the written word. That of Dr. Wilder follows and, who knows, of how many eyes and minds.
The impact of Grace’s indelible character is reinforced by the title page. The young girl on the left has face and eyes looking through you. Her beauty is indescribable and her terrors poignant, her sufferings violent enough to tear one apart. And yet Dr. Roper makes such a loving picture of her ripe age that Grace Albright becomes a symbol of convalescence.
The epilogue and author’s note reveal a few facts about the book, concluding with some inspiring words, which might sound rather tame in the face of the novel’s powerful hang over.
Hidden Grace is for us, lovers of beauty, courage, and truth.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Dick Boucher is a Franco-American who gets himself caught in an alienating Navy venture as he tries to save himself being drafted for the army against Vietnam. What follows is enigmatic, humorous, satirical, and adventurous in Pierre R. Beaumier’s ‘Scars of the Square Needle' (Outskirts Press, Denver, 2005).
Beaumier’s anti-war fiction, a roman a clef, is hard to classify as a novel (who insists?) or a short story (there are over 200 pages). So that leaves one with a ‘protracted story’. Boucher’s character typifies the alienation of an army consign who once had a relationship with art. As the war ends, Boucher finds himself across invisible bars, parting him from the purity of peace. The plot is intelligently woven, though a little more intricately.
Humor tops the attractions of this story (should I?). Use of alliteration is frequent and it reinforces the effect: ‘big belly bobbing up and down’, ‘a beaky pinkish nose rose from…’ Beaumier’s fast tempo of narration baffles at times. You know it’s based on a first-hand account of Vietnam War, so you are looking for a strong personal voice. But that is lacking and you get instead a diffuse hum of many voices. Characters keep busting in and there are a few women on the scene popping up from nowhere to console the shivering Boucher after his nightmares. Most of these disappear brusquely.
Beaumier is likely to attract a large male audience, guys who love to hear about guns and rough language of the military. The actions scenes are thrilling; life runs far from a bed of roses, no matter how much the protagonist hankers after it. What’s precious about the end is that knowing the real scars of Boucher’s life proves far easier than all the babble about the ‘Square Needle’.
Dennis Pollock, author, evangelist, and the founder of Spirit of Grace Ministries, offers practical help for hypoglycemic, diabetics, people fighting fatigue and mood swings, the weight-conscious, and the general health-conscious reader in his recent book ‘Overcoming Runaway Blood Sugar’ (Harvest House Publishers, Oregon, 2006). Two qualities of Pollock’s publication distinguish its merit: informative and motivating.
In the foreword to Pollock’s book, Dr. Lee A. Brock defines runaway blood sugar as ‘uncontrolled serum glucose levels’. Pollock shares his own experience of the breakdown of blood sugar system and how he managed to subdue this giant. The informative part of the book has much to convey: two types of diabetes, three big problems of an average American’s health (sedentary lifestyle, diet, weight), common misconceptions about diets, high-carb versus low-carb food, and simple but important strategies to cope with blood sugar conditions.
More important perhaps is the motivational aspect of the book. As it goes in Pollock’s words ‘When it comes to making behavioral changes, motivation isn’t merely important; it is everything!’ By discussing three fronts of the situation (Diet, Exercise, and Weight), the health-conscious reader is thrown into resistance against blood sugar problems. It’s here that the author draws on his own experience as a diabetic to show that one can build power and self-control while enjoying life by shedding the riffraff in diet and lifestyle. Accomplishing so much in a mere 200 pages is indeed extraordinary.
Pollock’s book has adornments. There are short informative sidebars through most of the chapters. The nutritional value of different food items, proper ways of exercising, experiments with blood sugar victims, and interesting facts about food and habits are all included in a healthy mode. It’s a remarkable feature of a book that essentially takes a medical problem but interests the reader like fiction. Three appendices conclude the book: Spiritual Motivation, Sample Meals, and Low-carb Recipes of popular choice meals.
Overcoming Runaway Blood Sugar is for all readers, a must for those in battle with blood sugar illness.