October 30, 2013

Ross' Rad Reads - Karma Gone Bad

I'd estimate about 90% of the books I read today are written by someone I know. It is beyond awesome. I love holding a book in my hand and smiling as I look at the author's name. I love to tell the person at checkout, my daughter, and anyone who is within earshot, "I know this author."

But I don't think I have ever been as excited for the release of a new book written by a friend than I was for this one. Perhaps that is because there is one path Jenny Feldon and I have traveled together, side by side. Cheering each other on the whole time. 

The path to publication. I'm still on my way. She has arrived at her destination. And I couldn't be happier. I was giddy when I walked into Barnes and Noble to pick this one up. I don't normally do the whole selfie thing, but I couldn't resist last week when SB and I stopped by B&N to pick up the copy I had ordered:

SB has always loved books. Even when she was a baby, she would grab for a book over a toy when given the choice. I have, of course, done what I can to encourage that interest.

She is fascinated by this one. She loves the cover, wants a golden elephant and to travel to India, and keeps turning to the page with Jenny's picture on it in awe of the fact I know her.

"Books can take you anywhere," I tell my daughter. "When you read a book, you create a picture in your head of the people and places in the story and go on a journey. It's like magic. And using your imagination in such a way helps your brain grow."

And that is truly how I feel. I have always loved books. I have been a voracious reader all my life. I revel in the escape a book provides. I can leave the mundane, the everyday behind and go anywhere in the world.

Thanks to Jenny Feldon, I have now been to India. Her book Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned to Love Mangos, Bollywood and Water Buffalo is a memoir, detailing her experiences as an expat in India for two years as her husband worked to establish a new office for his company.

To say Jenny experienced culture shock moving from Manhattan to Hyderabad would be putting it mildly. Her early impressions of India were at all not positive. The move threatens her sense of self as well as her brand new marriage.

In the beginning, I wasn't sure I would be able to relate to Jenny. I mean, we are friends, but our backgrounds and experiences are very different. I have never lived in a large city or owned designer anything. I have lived in a foreign country, but it was Europe and I was a paid employee, an au pair. And I was only 17 at the time.

But as I read, I realized what she was recounting was the universal human struggle to maintain a sense of self. As we go through life's many changes our world and perspective shifts time and time again.

We constantly have to reconnect with our core in order to keep our balance. The feelings of unsteadiness and discontent Jenny describes are ones we can all relate to.

Anyone who is married understands it is not the fairy tale we are often sold. Marriage is hard work with many ups and downs. Jenny and her husband Jay struggle with some basic marital issues, with the added strain of being thrust into a situation they were not prepared for.

It is a writing mantra that one should "show, don't tell." Jenny does this expertly. Her language is so creatively descriptive. As a fellow writer I reveled in her every word choice. She is incredibly talented.

The source of Jenny's most intense conflict and introspection was her time in India. She is the person she is today, the person I love, because she lived there. I feel as if I know her so much better having read this book.

I do wish she had shared more about her life in India following her "epiphany." Most of the book focuses on her struggles. But over time, as she comes to see the beauty of India and its people, she is transformed.

Once she learns to love her temporary home "for what it is," the book seems to skim past and even gloss over the remainder of her experiences there. I was left wanting to know more. She worked so hard to achieve her peace; I felt the reader should have had been given further opportunity to watch her revel in it.

But that did not take away from the overall enjoyment of this book.

I have a strong bias for nonfiction. To me, a true story is as good or better than anything that can be made up. Real life is beautiful. Gritty. Dynamic. Inspiring. 

That's not to say I don't love fiction. I absolutely do. But there is a special place in my heart for nonfiction. Especially memoir.

And this one was awesome. Way to go, Jenny! Way to go!

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