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James K. Bashkin's Discussions


Arcadia by Iain Pears- my review on Goodreads.com

Arcadia Arcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, or woe, my first entry here in nine years! I have been busy (with scientific research).

View all my reviews

White Bird Black Bird, Epic Novel of the Rights of Native Canadians vs. the Development of Oil and Gas Resources

White Bird Black Bird was written by Val Wake, the Australian-born journalist who worked for many years in Canada and England before returning to his native land. Wake worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC ) from 1969-73, the time when a nascent native rights movement ran head-on into oil and gas development, big business and government policies. Wake's fictionalized account of the conflicts comes directly from his personal experience as the broadcast reporter who covered this story on location for the CBC, doing so by traveling from his base in Yellowknife throughout the Arctic regions of Canada.

While the rights of indigenous peoples have now been established to some extent in various countries, this was not the case during the tumultuous, initial development of energy resources in the Canadian north. In fact, it was only in 2007 that the United Nations adopted its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Wake tells his story from the perspective of fictional journalist Warren Pritchard and provides the kind of details that give his fiction true credibility. For such an important story in a relatively unknown time and place, we are lucky to have Val Wake's insider knowledge as the basis of his book. I'm sure that Wake's time as an information officer for the British government added insight into the relationship between government and big business.

Those with an interest in human rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, the politics and business of exploiting energy resources, or one of the little-known stories of North American development, will see that White Bird Black Bird provides the goods. The novel also offers a rich and exciting read for fiction lovers everywhere.

White Bird Black Bird is available at amazon.com. I hope to follow up this brief post with an author interview accomplished by email.

Magdalen Nabb and Thomas Perry: mystery-thriller writers from different worlds

The Marshal and the Murderer by the late Magdalen Nabb is another foray into Florence and its nearby villages under the watchful eye of the ever-delightful and self-deprecating Marshall Guarnaccia. However, the events that transpire are not nearly as pleasant as the portly Marshall himself. In this episode, the murder of a foreign student leads Guarnaccia to a small town to assist the local authorities, or authority, as it turns out. There is the possibility of a turf war between the investigators, but after a few awkward moments along the way, they end up being a rather good-natured team. Food is a great common denominator for these Italian men, but it is their different backgrounds that end up providing crucial, complementary insights into the crime.

In fact, the mystery can't be solved at all without intimate knowledge of the closed-in, rather inbred village and its history, a history not readily yielded to outsiders. Guarnaccia contributes his usual insights, but remains somewhat mystified about how he actually helped the investigation.

The events that created a dangerous and volatile environment in the village date to before and during World War II. The terrible past meets the murderous present when the life of a young Swiss pottery student is taken violently. The village where the crime takes place is devoted largely to making clay pots and similar products, mostly for purely commercial rather than artistic reasons. There is at least one artist present, however, and he was the victim's teacher. Though quite elderly, he is as lecherous as he is brusque, and he falls under suspicion.

The villagers themselves make assumptions about the murder based on what happened in town 60 years earlier, during the war, and try their hand at vigilante justice. However, the Marshall and his new colleague are not convinced that the villagers understand who the real criminal is.

The story provides a view of how the war divided Italy, and how deeply those divisions might still run in some places. What is the protocol for interacting with the children of fascists and Nazi sympathizers in the aftermath of such a deadly war: must the parents' sins be carried on the shoulders of their children?

We see alliances and hatreds that formed in an isolated, working class village over its long history, a history written as much by the distance of modern highways as by the war itself. We experience first-hand accounts of the complex and terrible interactions between the Germans and Italians in latter stages of World War II.

Be sure to read this wonderfully-plotted mystery from the pen of a master- it is recommended to all.

The Butcher's Boy
I also recently read The Butcher's Boy by Thomas Perry. This is a good thriller, though forgive me if I find it hard to empathize with a mob hit man as protagonist. Yes, that goes for Lawrence Block's work, also: I much prefer Block's mysteries such as In the Midst of Death (from the Matthew Scudder series) to Hit Man (one of the John Keller Mysteries) .

The new paperback edition of The Butcher's Boy has a laudatory introduction by one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly (e.g. The Harry Bosch Novels: The Black Echo, The Black Ice, The Concrete Blonde ), and seems to be a favorite of many readers and reviewers, but I'm a bit less enthusiastic in my support.

The Butcher's Boy
follows a female Department of Justice investigator who tries to tie a set of suspicious deaths together, and the man who has done the killing. While law enforcement is trying to sort through the seemingly disconnected crimes, or apparent accidents, the clever killer makes a mistake with his mob employers, and becomes their next target. The hit man doesn't take this well, to say the least, and his field of view becomes a dangerous place for all involved.

At the end of a hard month or so of hard and harrowing work, both the hit man and the insightful Justice Department analyst, Elizabeth Waring, earn much needed vacations...

While I found the first few Jane Whitfield novels by Perry (Dance for the Dead , Vanishing Act ) to be more compelling than The Butcher's Boy, I do enjoy reading about women with good aim, excellent survival and crime solving skills, and good hearts. Ms. Waring is highly capable and well worth following, but she is no force of nature the way Jane Whitfield is. The Butcher's Boy offers more sardonic pleasure than flat-out exhilaration.

Thomas Perry has written a number of novels with unusual characters, and I recommend most of them to fans of crime fiction (the later Whitfield novels seemed to me to have lost their way). I reviewed the crime thriller Nightlife here: it is about another of Perry's strong female protagonists named Catherine Hobbes. Memory tells me that Nightlife has more hard-core violence and suspense than The Butcher's Boy, and it lacks the dark humor hidden in Ms. Waring's world; Nightlife receives the stronger recommendation from me, especially for readers who can enjoy its rougher edges, but both these books deserve your time.

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Palace Council by Stephen L. Carter

Palace Council (Vintage Contemporaries)
This wonderful novel is Stephen L. Carter’s third thriller. It is a captivating mystery story that I absolutely loved, which has enough conspiracies on all sides to, among other things, reanimate J. Edgar Hoover without putting a foot wrong. Palace Council by Stephen L. Carter is a fictional account, mixed in with a lot of historical facts, of race relations and national politics from before JFK to the end of the Nixon era. Of course, this time period encompasses the Vietnam War, and we have occasion to drop in on the Southeast Asian conflict for some object lessons. The author describes roles played by fictional and real power brokers, by fictional and real African American influences and by, again, both fictional and real African American experiences in shaping the country's political landscapes and affecting the outcomes of elections, political movements and individual lives.

Through the eyes of its many major and minor characters, Palace Council both embraces and confronts student and Afro-centrist extremism. The story encompasses many layers of scheming on all sides of the political spectrum, and within or between families, and it explores links and breaks between African American characters and conservative, centrist and liberal representatives of the Caucasian majority.

The author successfully turns history that we think we know into a thriller by the addition of fictional elements that will show many of us a part of America that we have little knowledge of (no matter what our family or racial backgrounds may be). A lot of ground is covered, from personal and family loyalty and Civil Rights to the bizarre personality of Richard M. Nixon. This is the stuff of great conflicts!

As part of a thread that connects murder with history, Palace Council offers a fascinating picture of Harlem as it undergoes an unfortunate though hardly unique dismantling, starting out as the major center of African American culture and power, and ending up as a broken down neighborhood populated by the ghosts of greatness past and those who were left behind when most of the educated and wealthy headed for the suburbs (or more attractive waterfront property). That's not to say that no great minds remain in Harlem, they are undoubtedly born frequently, but we watch as the once stratified and often regal neighborhoods in Harlem cease being magnets or oases for intellectual and artistic development in African American culture, at least from perspectives that lean toward the conservative definition of what culture is... so, ignoring, say, Hip-Hop, though credit for that really goes to The Bronx, I guess; see Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Along the way, we enjoy excellent, gripping writing, clever plots and subplots, and a cast of characters that is simply fascinating. Adding to the pleasure, threads of the plot link Palace Council to Carter's first two novels:

New England White and The Emperor of Ocean Park .

Both of these earlier novels are also a pleasure to read. New England White, for example, which I already reviewed briefly, is an outstanding thriller that manages to present us with convincing murder mysteries and behavioral mysteries while it addresses race relations and racial politics at local (village), elite academic and national levels.

I can't say that the novel Palace Council is perfect, but it is darned close, and my quibbles aren't worth mentioning: it is an epic "must read" that will thrill, delight, sadden, and involve the reader as all great stories do.

James K. Bashkin, Nearlynothingbutnovels, Creative Commons License

Note that an early, draft version of this book review appears on the Barnes & Noble Website.

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See the Blog Crime Fiction by Author Leigh Russell

Author Leigh Russell of the U.K. is having technical issues with certain web-based book stores (see the comment on the previous post). Please look at Leigh's blog for more information about the new novel Cut Short, featuring detective inspector (DI) Geraldine Steel. The blog also has a schedule of author appearances and book signings. Pre-order the book from amazon here: Cut Short (DI Geraldine Steel, No. 1) .

Detective Fiction Set in Laos, Australia and Spain

In keeping with my recent, brief remarks about the books I've been reading, some gems from SOHO press are presented here. My reviewing is far behind my reading, so there's still plenty more to come.

Thirty-Three Teeth
by Colin Cottrell. One doesn't normally expect to end up in the "recently liberated" Communist Laos of 1977, especially in the company of a very elderly doctor who serves as national coroner. However, what a delight Dr. Paiboun is- he takes us on a journey through the ancient and semi-modern traditions of a country trying to establish a "proper" Communist bureaucracy... what an ambition to have... but the ambition is not shared by the good doctor or most of his friends and acquaintances. The book stays away from overt politics for the most part, though there is reference to a Washington delegation that demands access to American MIA's, in spite of continued insistence that there never were U.S. troops in or over Laos.

An important character in Cottrell's novel is Nurse Dtui, whom her boss thinks highly of, but who is consistently underestimated by everyone except her mother. The combination of Paiboun and Dtui, both independent, one old and the other young, ends up being formidable. Add traditional Laotian spirits into the mix as Cottrell did, and a rich, unusual story results. The wonderful journey is far more important than the satisfying conclusion.

Death by Demonstration
by Patricia Carlon is not the masterpiece that I found her novel The Unquiet Night to be (see my review of that great thriller here). Death by Demonstration seems dated in its treatment of "naive" student protesters and in its rather blind respect for government authority, a respect that one would be hard-pressed to find these days in most places I'm familiar with. The story itself does involve an excellent mystery, a clever detective, and a cast of rogues, bystanders and victims who are not all what they appear to be. Carlon writes well, as usual, and reading for the words, paragraphs and characters is satisfying. Things droop only when the misplaced moralizing pops up in the text; it is quite organic to the story, but very much in the wrong, as we know now (in my opinion). A product of its time, Death by Demonstration is recommended with only minor reservations.

Death of a Nationalist (Soho Crime)
by Rebecca Pawel. This is a remarkably emotional story (it was, for me, anyway). Pawel's novel is about a fascist soldier/member of the guardia civil in Spain, and takes place immediately after the conclusion of Franco's takeover. Sergeant Tejada is a committed fascist, a believer, who is stationed in Madrid after taking part in some of the war's most terrible battles. He dispenses the fascist version of justice swiftly and without remorse, calmly shooting a woman dead for her suspected role in the murder of a fellow officer. However, Tejada is not a fool (in every way), and he doggedly, even creatively, continues his investigation of the murder, in part because the victim was a close friend.

The trail of evidence leads to the black market and provides some disturbing and seemingly out of character revelations about Tejada's former comrade-in-arms. As things progress, Tejada surprises even himself by developing an admiration for some enemies of the state. There is no middle ground, of course, and the parallels between Franco and recent US administrations are disturbing: you are either on their side or you are not a patriot. Of course, in post-war Spain, the punishment for dissent was brutal.

This terrific first novel recreates Spain in the aftermath of civil war and describes the deprivations of regular citizens who suffered through food shortages, purges and burgeoning totalitarianism. Death of a Nationalist is a remarkable story of a character development that occurs against all odds, as the truth keeps showing its inconvenient self through the investigative work of the diligent and dogged Sergeant.

More recently-read books and brief comments

Other books I've recently read.... with hit-and-run commentary.

Stalin's Ghost
by Martin Cruz Smith- very good, if not one of the best of Renko's investigations. Contemporary Moscow, new Russian elections, post-Chernobyl citizens, and detailed references to the war in Chechnya.

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome
by Robert Harris- I enjoyed this, but kept waiting for another shoe to drop. There were no staggering revelations for me, and we learn that much of Cicero's life was mundane, though that in itself is somewhat staggering to realize. It is a rich book, nonetheless, and I am richer for having read it. Some of the parallels between Roman politics and today's world are disturbing.

The Ghost
by Robert Harris- A fine read, with a suitably cynical view of modern politics. A great draw for those who love conspiracies, real or imagined.

Chinaman's Chance
by Ross Thomas- A brilliant and bitingly satirical novel that is uproariously funny, while also treating some deadly serious issues from our not-so-distant historical past. Tremendous balance and taste are complemented by the best characters one could hope for (including my favorite con men).

New England White
by Stephen L. Carter- His second novel, after the outstanding book, The Emperor of Ocean Park, gives us another terrific thriller with a convoluted, engaging, generation-spanning plot. We also enjoy some serious suspense, and a lot of racial and political context. Don't put it down (you'll soon be unable to)!

For the love of language (and politics), plus comments on a few of the latest books I've read

I find myself compelled to point out that Sarah Palin is suffering from "Aleutians of grandeur."


I just finished a few books sent to me by my brother, lent by friends, and some that I even purchased (that should make the authors happy, though if they only knew how many books I have, they might forgive my current quasi-moratorium on buying more). These recently-read books include Hitler's Peace by Philip Kerr, which was not as engaging as his most engaging books, and at times seemed awkward or forced, but was compelling, nonetheless, and ultimately both illuminating and intriguing. OK, that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but remember that this is a favorite author of mine who reaches the highest standards in most of his books, if not quite in every case. However, I encourage you to read Hitler's Peace, both for the excitement and for the window on a fascinating time in history.

Prior to that, a selection of what I read includes Vicious Circle by Robert Littell, The Mayor of Lexington Avenue by James Shehan, much of Collapse by Jared Diamond (still reading it), and the single volume containing the novels Fatherland and Enigma by Robert Harris.

Here are a few additional recent reads: Water Touching Stone by Eliot Pattison (excellent), Spook Country by William Gibson (judged by the highest standards, very good), and The Painter of Battles: A Novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte (see below).

Collapse is a fascinating book that can be read in bits and pieces, or straight through. I'm still filling in the parts I skipped over, aided in my journey by never using a bookmark and continually starting up in random places (a Dadaist approach, perhaps, but don't you feel the Dadaists need a little more attention now and then?). Collapse offers a lot of hope while also documenting many monumental failures of societies throughout history; it comes from the author of the highly touted Guns, Germs and Steel, also touted (and toted) by my high school age son. I haven't read Guns, Germs ... yet.

The other books I listed are all very good or better, though The Mayor of Lexington Avenue is excellent for 95% of the book, and just OK for the other 5% (don't hold me to the numbers, these are impressionistic statistics, if there are such a thing). Still, The Mayor of... is quite an amazing first novel, with outstanding characters, plot and setting that stretch over two generations, from the poor to the rich and powerful, and from New York to a Florida backwater. I think that if the author had grappled with one less issue or subplot, the book would have remained uniformly outstanding. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended.

Although I've read all of Littell's other books except one, I had made a conscious decision not to read Vicious Circle. I felt the same way when The Little Drummer Girl by le Carre' came out- at the time that I just couldn't handle the subject matter (the Middle East conflict) as "entertainment," though, of course, the book is far deeper than that comment implies. I know this because, after about ten years, I broke down and read John le Carre's take on a part of the Middle East conflict, and was glad I did, and, after my brother sent me Vicious Circle I broke down again and read it as well.

Littell writes so well that I found myself laughing out loud in the middle of very tense scenes. As always, his wonderful language and characters are brilliantly crafted. Still, Israeli and Palestinian people and their many issues are not an easy thing to read about, especially when they are kidnapping, murdering, torturing and negotiating for peace (simultaneously, if not all by the same individuals). I felt that Littell was extremely balanced in his treatment of all sides, and the book is gripping from start to end. Unfortunately, I cried a lot more than I laughed, but that comes with the territory in this case.

The novels by Robert Harris left me a bit flat, Enigma more so than Fatherland. I have to say that the premise of Fatherland is very clever and brilliantly executed, and was used to build up a remarkable, alternative universe, though one where the truth will out. The premise is that Germany won WW2 and, among many other consequences, no GI's liberated any concentration camps. The storyline itself isn't quite as strong as other aspects of the book, though it serves as a good thriller with chilling revelations. Enigma perhaps simply wasn't the book I was expecting- I kept looking for that book on each page and coming up empty. It is definitely worth reading, however, and is another WW2 thriller, with an associated murder mystery.

The Painter of Battles by Perez-Reverte is an unusual book. It is by far the shortest book by the author, as far as I know, but it took me an unusually long time to read. There are a lot of pithy sentences and analyses of paintings and warfare, from ancient to modern. Not that this is a textbook by any means; it is a psychological thriller, and the tension can reach high levels, but it's also a no-holds-barred examination of modern morality, warfare and societies. The language demands an attention to detail that I could not always provide (say at the end of a long day) and I wasn't always alert enough to grasp the point, though I rarely have this problem with books (or with the books I choose to read, in any event). I'm not sure I'm erudite enough to grasp all of this novel, either. My knowledge of art history is fairly spotty- I've seen a lot but haven't studied it, so I tend to forget the details. Nevertheless, the stories within the novel are well worth reading since they are based on real events, more or less, events that were highly significant to the participants and some of their observers, but were probably given little thought by most other people. As with quantum physics, we see here that the observer changes the "experiment" or experience, and here the consequences can be tragic. I'd label this short novel a "must read"!

That's it for my capsule summaries and other comments of the day.

© 2008 James K. Bashkin

An Interview with Author Shobhan Bantwal

Today I have the pleasure of publishing an interview with Shobhan Bantwal, author of The Forbidden Daughter and The Dowry Bride. Readers will not be surprised to find me fascinated by a culturally-aware thriller that describes unfamiliar customs- thankfully unfamiliar in this case (see Qiu Xiaolong for related examples from China). After some background material on Shobhan and her latest novel, I'll dive into the interview, and then close with an excerpt from The Forbidden Daughter.

Summary of The Forbidden Daughter

When a young widow refuses to comply with her in-laws' dictate to abort her unborn child, will her rebellion turn out to be the greatest mistake of her life, or a blessing in disguise? This is the story of one mother’s valiant fight to protect her daughters in a society that often frowns on female children, and the only man who will help her in her battle when the stakes become impossibly high. The Forbidden Daughter is woven around the hot-button social issue of vanishing girl children in contemporary India, where gender-based abortions and female infanticide continue to be practiced in some areas despite laws to ban the practices.

About Shobhan Bantwal –Shobhan Bantwal is the author of The Dowry Bride and The Forbidden Daughter. Both novels are set in India and released by Kensington Publishing Corp. Shobhan’s short story titled Where the Lotus Grows is scheduled for publication in an anthology in spring 2009 and the proceeds will be donated by the publisher, Freya’s Bower, to a battered women’s shelter.

As a freelance writer, Shobhan frequently writes columns for India Abroad. Since 2002, Shobhan’s articles and short stories have also appeared in a variety of other publications including The Writer magazine, Little India, U.S. 1, Desi Journal, India Currents, Overseas Indian, New Woman India, Kanara Saraswat and Sulekha. Her short stories have won honors and awards in fiction contests sponsored by Writer’s Digest, New York Stories and New Woman magazines.

For more information about Shobhan Bantwal’s virtual tour, visit: http://virtualblogtour.blogspot.com/2008/09/forbidden-daughter-by-shobhan-bantwal.html.

The Forbidden Daughter can be ordered at: Amazon.com

You can visit Shobhan Bantwal at her website – www.shobhanbantwal.com

Nearly Nothing but Novels: the Interview with Shobhan Bantwal

NearlyNothingbutNovels: How do you try to manage the balance between political statement and artistic vision in your writing?

Shobhan Bantwal: When I first took up creative writing, I had no idea that I would develop an interest in political-social issues and use them as a platform for my stories. I was contemplating various themes, and dowry abuse in India seemed like an interesting topic, with just enough controversy and substance to form the crux of a dramatic tale with romantic elements.

However, as I started to do some preliminary research into the deeply-entrenched dowry system and the use and abuse of it in Indian society, I was both shocked enough and curious enough to decide to make it my main theme.

To answer your question, I find myself teetering on a high-wire when I make my political statements the central motifs of my books and at the same time attempt to entertain my readers with good, page-turning stories. As long as I remain focused on the fact that I write “fiction” and my writing is not a scholarly treatise on the social-political issues, I am able to factor them into my stories, and to my satisfaction.

NNBN: Do your female protagonists represent an idealized vision of women who may develop in India, given time and circumstances, or are they characters who are truly part of today’s Indian society in significant numbers?

SB: My female protagonists are my vision of the ideal Indian woman—strong yet flexible, shy yet bold when necessary, kind yet selfish enough to protect what is hers, astute yet possessing an innocent and naïve quality that makes readers find her likeable enough to root for her.

However, in present-day India’s environment of higher education and emancipation, there are such women in abundance. They are the trailblazers ones who are brave enough to break away from meaningless traditions and forge a new path for other women to follow.

One such example is a young woman named Nisha Sharma, who in 2003 became so disgruntled by her future in-laws’ unreasonable demands of dowry from her parents that she rebelled against tradition and had the groom and his family arrested in the marriage hall, in the presence of the wedding guests. She became an instant hero, not only in India, but in many parts of the world where women are allowed little freedom to speak their minds. There are plenty of Nisha Sharmas in India today.

NNBN: What kind of real freedom of expression does Indian society provide to artists, especially women?

SB: Despite being very 21st Century in technology, fashion, and culture (to some degree) freedom of expression to artists is still rather restricted. Although those restrictions are imposed on both sexes, in the male-dominated atmosphere of Indian society, it is the women who face more harsh criticism of artistic expression than men. A woman painter who portrays nudism is likely to face censure from the moral police more than a man. A woman writer who features controversy or supposedly “puts ultra-modern ideas” in women’s minds is sure to provoke conservative folks.

A number of instances, where certain movies and books have been banned in India, and a beauty pageant that was disrupted by picketers because it debased Indian women are examples of how there is no true freedom of expression in certain arenas.

Again, there are a few women who are rebellious enough to break the mold and start a new trend in every form of artistic expression.

NNBN: How serious is the Indian central government about reforms that challenge traditional values in favor of human rights?

SB: The Indian government is very serious about protecting human rights. For years, legislation to ban dowry, gender-selective abortion, and discrimination against females in the workplace has been enacted progressively by the government. And yet, the number of cases that are tried is very few, and the ones where justice is served are even fewer. One of the reasons for this is a weak judicial system bogged down by bureaucratic rules. The other reason is raging corruption in the law enforcement community, where the police and other departments are willing to look the other way even in cases of blatant abuse.

NNBN: What are the personal repercussions of your powerful stance in favor of women’s rights?

SB: Being an Indian-American writer whose books are published in North America only, not too many copies of them have reached India yet. My readers are primarily non-South Asian, which means not many censorious folks have had a chance to read my books. To that end, personal repercussions have been minimal (to date). Nonetheless, as more of my books reach readers outside the U.S. and Canada, the potential for personal attacks is likely to increase.

Having said that, I have to admit that a handful of Indian-Americans have sent me some scathing comments. They are critical of my portrayal of the darker elements of Indian culture and supposedly distorting the magnitude of certain practices.

NNBN: How do you place the issue of women’s rights in terms of the other injustices and tragedies that beset the various cultural and religious groups in India, both within themselves and against each other?

SB: In most cultures, injustices and the resulting tragedies are often interrelated. Women’s rights violations are a direct result of conservative beliefs that stem from lack of knowledge and education, which comes from poverty and lack of resources, which in turn hinges on overpopulation.

To this day, many Indians believe the woman is at fault if she produces female children, when science clearly states otherwise. In male-dominated societies like India, girls are looked upon as a liability whereas boys are assets, future bread-winners, leaders and caretakers of the elderly. However, with more education and forward thinking, the tide is slowly turning, leaving hope for women to rise to the level of males.

The more serious issue in the 21st Century appears to be not so much social evils as religion, which has taken on a new and intimidating stance. Whereas Indian society in the past was secular and tolerant of all religions, today the Hindus and Muslims are warring with each other more frequently. This could lead to unforeseen and more virulent socio-political problems, especially for children and families of mixed marriages.

NNBN: Given an understandable resistance to outside influence by any cultural group or country, what would you have the international community do, if anything, to improve women’s rights and combat social injustice in India?

SB: The U.N. and human rights organizations around the world are capable of penetrating the walls of resistance in conservative cultures to some extent. If enough publicity is given to the types of topics I write about, these organizations could do more research into the subjects and offer assistance to the victims. These worldwide organizations have the size, the budget, and the clout to delve past the barriers erected by cultural and religious groups in any part of the world.

One of the reasons I write about socio-political topics is to bring awareness to them amongst people who have no knowledge of them. My readers often thank me for making them aware of something they had never heard of.

NNBN: What are the most obvious effects on Indian society brought about by current improvements in the standard of living, at least for some?

SB: With the IT industry’s boom since the Y2K revolution started in the late 1990s, India’s middle class has seen a phenomenal growth in its standard of living. But the secondary and more promising effect is the proliferation of education. In an effort to fill the multitude of high-tech jobs in a growing global market, both men and women have enrolled in technology courses and acquired advanced degrees. As a result, more young women are now in high-income jobs similar to those once held by men. This type of economic independence has also spawned social and political independence for women.

NNBN: At the same time that Indians increasingly embrace and benefit financially from what we might inaccurately call “Western” technology, including science and engineering, is there any evidence of a shift towards Western values? Or, perhaps, is this technology viewed as an indigenous Indian development, carrying with it no foreign connotation or influence?

SB: With the influence of Western technology there has been a gradual shift towards Western culture. Pubs or bars have mushroomed in large cities in India, allowing the younger generation to socialize in places where once there was no place other than home to go to after work. Bollywood movies now have more Western themes with the characters wearing Western clothes and vacationing in Europe and the U.S. They eat and drink non-Indian foods and drinks, they dance in swank clubs, drive imported automobiles, and the Hindi dialogue is generously sprinkled with English words, especially Americanisms.

However, the picture is not all positive. Drugs, alcohol, and excessive spending on luxuries are some of the problems that are being experienced in India in recent years.

Thank you for hosting me on your popular blog. Additional information about my writing, recipes, photos, and events is available on my website: www.shobhanbantwal.com

NNBN- and thanks to Shobhan for being kind enough to answer my questions! Now from her latest novel:

Prologue for The Forbidden Daughter

Oh, Lord, I beg of you.
I fall at your feet time and again.
In my next incarnation, don't give me a daughter;
Give me hell instead . . .

Folk Song from the State of Uttar Pradesh, India


“Your child will come at the harvest full moon,” the old man said.

Jolted out of her dark, melancholic thoughts, Isha Tilak looked up, and stared in astonishment at the man who had uttered the startling words. He was obviously addressing her, because there was no one else in the immediate vicinity.

His strange remark captured her attention, thrusting aside her private musings.

“It is called Kojagari Purnima. It is the night when Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance, descends from her heavenly abode to bless her devotees,” he added, stroking his luxuriant salt-and-pepper beard that more than compensated for the total absence of hair on his large, misshapen head.

He was supposedly a sadhu—a sage or holy man. He was certainly dressed for the part in his faded saffron robe—typical garb for Hindu holy men. Perhaps because she continued to wear a baffled look, he smiled. The simple motion transformed and softened his austere face, creating deeper furrows in his gaunt cheeks. “Yours will be a female child who will bring light and abundance to the people around her.”

She shook herself out of her stunned silence. It took her a moment to comprehend his words. Then natural curiosity took over, prompting her to goad him, test him. “How do you know my child will be a girl?”

He ignored her question. Instead he said, “Your daughter comes as a gift from Lakshmi, so she will enjoy prosperity and many comforts in her life, and, being generous, she will share them with others.”

“But my in-laws think she’s a curse,” Isha informed him, the bitterness in her voice hard to conceal and the despondency in her tear-swollen eyes a testimony to her despair. “In fact, they have forbidden me to have this child.”

“I know,” he said, with a thoughtful nod. “I am also aware that there is something which some evil doctors use to eliminate female children before they are born. It is one of the many scourges of kaliyug. Modern society.”

Coming October 16: An Interview with Author Shobhan Bantwal

As part of Shobhan Bantwal's BlogTour to support her latest novel, I will be interviewing and hosting Ms. Bantwal on October 16. Please feel free to send in questions of your own, ahead of time, so the author can respond.

Ms Bantwal's latest novel is The Forbidden Daughter , and, like her first novel, The Dowry Bride , this story addresses the rights and roles of women in India, in a dramatic setting. From the book jacket:

When a young widow refuses to comply with her in-laws' dictate to abort her unborn child, will her rebellion turn out to be the greatest mistake of her life, or a blessing in disguise? This is the story of one mother's valiant fight to protect her daughters in a society that often frowns on female children, and the only man who will help her in her battle when the stakes become impossibly high.
If you are like me, The Forbidden Daughter will provide you with a thrilling and excellent read and an entirely new take reproductive freedom, not to mention the role of physicians in society. I hope you will join us!

James K. Bashkin

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James K. Bashkin's Page

Profile Information

St. Louis, Missouri, USA
About Me:
I'm a scientist and work on discovering and developing new drugs for the prevention of cervical cancer.

I write professionally in the technical arena (science articles), and like nearly all scientists, I review articles for scientific journals. I have also been a journal's (associate) editor and serve on an editorial review board. But all of that is for chemistry. I have published one non-science article (on track & field) and a couple of scientific editorials. I also had a poem published in a vanity press (I wrote it when I was about 15). I do have a few posts on science in my blog (issues of public interest), and in many cases I do know the scientific authors whose work I discuss personally. I always disclose this. Since I don't do anything professional in the fiction arena, I'm not checking off the editor box, etc.

I'm an avid fiction reader and recently started writing about the books I read at nearlynothingbutnovels. This is in part because I felt I was reading books at a pretty fast clip, but was having trouble remembering titles & authors (though I didn't have any trouble remembering the stories), so I thought I would cement my memories into the bloggoshere. More important is my love of sharing great books with friends, which I now extend from the friends I know to the friends I don't know (to quote my younger son, when he was 5). I don't know any of the fiction authors personally, yet, though I have met a number of them and also know the sister of one. I will disclose any personal relationships where appropriate.

There is a very high proportion of crime fiction in my overall fiction diet. I also tend to read a lot of "international crime fiction".

Stop by and comment on what I've said, if you like, and I'll be browsing your sites and linking to them ASAP.
I Am A:
Reader, Writer
Books And Authors I Like:
Cara Black, Charlotte Jay, Alan Furst, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Elliot Pattison, Gary Disher, Ian Rankin, John Le Carre', John Straley, Philip Kerr, Qiu Xiaolong, Robert Wilson
Movies And TV Shows I Like:
The Closer, Homicide: Life on the Street, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Numbers

James K. Bashkin's Blog

Updates to Miniblogs, Squidoo Lenses, on Crime Fiction and Fiction

I'm way behind and haven't really written anything (non-technical) in a year, but I did make some updates about favorite books on my Squidoo lenses What's a Little Murder Among Friends, crime fiction, and Nearly Nothing but Novels. These are, to some extent, spin-offs from my main fiction blog, also called… Continue

Posted on October 24, 2010 at 1:34pm

For the love of language (and politics), plus comments on a few of the latest books I've read

I find myself compelled to point out that Sarah Palin is suffering from "Aleutians of grandeur."


I just finished a few books sent to me by my brother, lent by friends, and some that I even purchased (that should make the authors here happy, though if they only knew how many books I have, they might forgive my current quasi-moratorium on buying more). These… Continue

Posted on November 13, 2008 at 3:00pm

My current writing and photography projects

This about covers things, except for publication of a few photos at an online mapping company and at a real estate agent's website for islands in Maine. Writing seems to be better than sleeping, most of the time..

Nearly nothing but novels: fiction and crime fiction book reviews

Chemistry for a sustainable world…


Posted on April 23, 2008 at 4:32pm

The accurate Raymond Chandler Quote that I fudged before

"It was a cool day and very clear. You could see a long way--but not as far as Velma had gone"---Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 41)

Thanks to http://home.comcast.net/~mossrobert/html/chandlerisms/chandlerisms.htm for helping me get the details right.

What a great close to the novel!

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 10:47pm

My first author interview and next writing projects

It is still in progress, but the first two installments of my discussion and interview with Qiu Xiaolong appear on Nearly Nothing but Novels. What a kind man and a terrific novelist. I took a break to read his two latest novels and write a bunch of environmental posts elsewhere, but I'll wrap it up soon.

On the subject of the environment, I just spoke (rather unexpectedly) at my State representative's "State of the State" address: I'm multitasking so much that I guess I didn't read… Continue

Posted on April 1, 2008 at 10:30pm

Comment Wall (20 comments)

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At 9:07pm on August 6, 2009, Preetham Grandhi said…
Hi James , I want to introduce you to my debut novel "A Circle of souls" which is a murder, mystery, psychological thriller and a tale of justice and hope. Do visit www.acircleofsouls.com to read more about the book. Make sure you sign up to win an autographed copy of the book. You can also read more reviews by clicking on the More Reviews button at the website. Thanks for your time in advance.

Best regards

Preetham Grandhi

Early Endorsements for “A Circle of Souls”

Linda Fairstein, NYT Bestselling Author: "A fascinating debut - this novel takes the reader to the darkest places in the human soul, from a writer with the authenticity to lead us there. A stunning thriller and an important read."

Judge Judy Sheindlin, star of the Judge Judy Show: "The seminal work of this fine author kept me glued to my chair until the adventure was over and the mystery solved. A great read!"

Book Synopsis:

The sleepy town of Newbury, Connecticut, is shocked when a little girl is found brutally murdered. The town s top detective, perplexed by a complete lack of leads, calls in FBI agent Leia Bines, an expert in cases involving children.

Meanwhile, Dr. Peter Gram, a psychiatrist at Newbury s hospital, searches desperately for the cause of seven-year-old Naya Hastings devastating nightmares. Afraid that she might hurt herself in the midst of a torturous episode, Naya s parents have turned to the bright young doctor as their only hope.

The situations confronting Leia and Peter converge when Naya begins drawing chilling images of murder after being bombarded by the disturbing images in her dreams. Amazingly, her sketches are the only clues to the crime that has panicked Newbury residents. Against her better judgment, Leia explores the clues in Naya s crude drawings, only to set off an alarming chain of events.
In this stunning psychological thriller, innocence gives way to evil, and trust lies forgotten in a web of deceit, fear, and murder.
At 4:22pm on March 28, 2008, Luis said…
Thanks for accepting my invitation. I too look forward to discussing fiction with you.
At 3:26pm on March 14, 2008, Timothy Hallinan said…
Hey, James --

Thanks for the invitation. Will go check out your reviews. (And, by the way, I have a book coming in June.)

At 1:15am on March 14, 2008, L.J. Sellers said…
Hi James
Your background is unique for this site, but intriguing to me. I was an editor on Pharmaceutical Executive for seven years, so I interviewed a lot of scientist in search of cures. Very passionate and noble people.
On the subject of crime writers, Leslie Glass is one of my favorites (when she's writing about April Woo).
At 2:05am on January 8, 2008, carole gill said…
thank you for that. all the best and I hope your year is great too. I found what you wrote interesting. I suppose chemistry would change along with other sciences. hmm i'll have to think about that.

At 6:40pm on January 7, 2008, carole gill said…
Love your page and profile. And thanks for the invite. Would you believe I absolutely loved organic and inorganic chemistry in high school and beyond and then did zip with it?!
anyway all the best!
At 9:04am on December 31, 2007, Cara Black said…
Happy New Year James!
At 12:21pm on November 5, 2007, charlene said…
Hi! How are you, Jim? I am searching for Silent Spring. I am very eager to read it!
At 7:17am on October 19, 2007, Charlotte Williamson said…
WOW! What a lot of info to digest! I'm one of those "hunt & peck" sort of people, as opposed to "design and build" It's sort of like, I know how to drive a car, but I don't know how it runs or what to do if it stops running. That's my life in re to computers. I've operated computers since the early 70's, but they have progressed so far in technology, that it blows my mind. I sometimes find it hard to keep up. So I learn a lot from people like you. Thanks for your patience and thanks for the explanations. I learn more every day.
At 4:41am on October 18, 2007, Charlotte Williamson said…
I'm new at the writing and promotion game, and even newer to the world of "blogs." Can you explain in detail about "Blog Carnivals?" It sounds like I could post chapters of my books there to get people interested in them.

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