A while back someone told me about this site India Book Store. I am kidding my husband told me about it. Because we are ordering books every week. If not for me then someone else and yes comparing prices seemed like his IIT mind’s way to save us some money 🙂 Moving on. Of course like everytime I went in search of their blog. Which by the way goes by the name of Bookish. And then there was no looking back. Every time they uploaded a post and I got a notification I quickly went to read it. Entertaining, informational and always giving you a feeling of it being written by a bibliophile.

Well so much from my side, now in their own words, “IndiaBookStore is a
Book Search Engine which helps you find the cheapest deals when you buy books.
We are book lovers ourselves; we define ourselves as ‘Of the Bookish, By the
Bookish, For the Bookish.’ Hoping to see you guys at our blog and of course for best deals at our homepage http://www.indiabookstore.net/ .”

Now handing over the baton to the very wordy Mugdha to review one of her reads.

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What makes a writer truly great? What makes
him or her stand out as a pioneer, in their own time and even after?

I’d say: the propensity to challenge the
morality of their age. To raise questions, to point readers in a radically new
direction. To make them understand the world, and themselves, better. To open
the doors of their minds.

Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child is about a happy family – a couple who have a
common goal and a shared vision of marriage, the home of their dreams, and four
perfect children – whose comfortable placid bourgeois existence comes to a
jarring halt with the birth of the fifth child. The fifth child is a freak of
nature, and one that cannot be defined, making him doubly frightening. He is
not retarded – there is no definition for his ‘condition’. He might best be described
as a throwback, animal in his instincts, primitive in his ways. He is strange, inexplicable,
there is no way to explain exactly what
he is. His siblings, even the pet dog, are wary of him and keep out of his way.
The arrival of this child disrupts the happy family, drives a wedge between
husband and wife, and between the mother and her four children.

And what does she, Harriet, the mother of
this fifth child do?

This story is told from Harriet’s
perspective. A woman who wanted only the things that have, for ages, been
considered ‘proper’ for all women to want: a husband, children. And she is perfectly happy having only those
things. The book was written in the 80s, when there was some pressure on women
to ‘want it all’ – a family AND a career. But Harriet eschews the wisdom of the
age, and decides that what she wants
is – just a happy family. And for a long time she gets what she wants. Until
the arrival of Ben, the fifth child.
The genius of Doris Lessing lies in making
the reader, no matter what their personal beliefs – feminist, traditional,
moderate – identify with Harriet’s dilemma. Throughout the book she is torn
between her love for the rest of her family, and her loyalty – NOT love, mind
you, because she is honest enough to admit that she does not love Ben
(sacrilegious though the notion of a mother not loving her own child is, even
today) – towards her freak son. Even the end of the book brings no closure to
Harriet’s dilemma. There is no solution to her problem. Torn apart by guilt,
love, loyalty, and her inability to reconcile herself to the situation, Harriet
never recovers what she once had, what she lost because she gave birth, against
everyone’s advice, to Ben.
Apart from the themes in the book, and the
questions it brings to the forefront (the responsibilities of maternity, the
expectations society has from mothers, the wisdom of giving birth, to ‘normal’
or ‘not-so-normal’ children), what really got me was how a single sentence of
hers could contain so much more than the sum of its words, just like Hemingway.
Sample, for example, this line:

had not thought of herself as a virgin, if this meant a physiological condition
to be defended, but rather as something like a present wrapped up in layers of
deliciously pretty paper…’

With this line, we understand Harriet, her
motives, her longings, and whether we agree with her or not, we get what she’s about. And I, at least,
was angry at Ben, for spoiling Harriet’s happiness. Reading this book, he
seemed to deliberately want to hurt Harriet. He indulged in certain activities
that seemed sadistic and cruel, such as killing animals, and these made me
completely biased against him.

And then I read the sequel, Ben, in the World.

The sequel is told from Ben’s perspective,
and herein lies another illustration of Lessing’s genius, in making us
empathise with her characters. Harriet suffered, of course; but so did Ben. He was labeled a ‘freak’ by
society, by his own family, and even by me, the reader of The Fifth Child. But now we see that he will have to endure a
lifetime of dealing with the world; of getting stared at, laughed at, despised,
feared, attacked. That he will, almost certainly, never find love. The best he
can hope for is pity.

And he has his full life ahead of him. Years
and years of not being understood.

How will he deal with it?

It stunned me, to realize that Ben was, if
not quite human – and it is left ambiguous, exactly what Ben is – a sentient being, a being with feelings,
understanding, and fears. And that I had never thought of things from his
perspective, while reading the first book.

How often we are like that. Seeing things the
way they appeal to us, never trying to look at the other person’s perspective.

It takes a great book to make us realize how
truly small we are.

                                                                                                            –Written by Mugdha Wagle

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