I continued my ongoing quest to visit every gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts by visiting the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa wings. It’s unfortunate that the art of the two most populous continents and some diverse island cultures are all clumped together like that, especially since the MFA boasts having a large collection of Asian arts dating back to the earliest days of the museum. Nevertheless there was quite a delightful collection of works that had me hopping around geographically as well as through time. One gallery deliberately mixed contemporary and classical Japanese art in a provocative way.
I also took a 3 masterpieces in 30 minutes tour and got to learn about three family portraits from three different artistic styles – Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, a folk art portrait from the 1830s, and Steen’s Twelfth-Night Feast.
After these eight visits, I believe I’ve been to every permanent gallery in the museum. Of course, art on exhibit is changing all the time, so I’ll have to go back and do it again. Maybe next time I’ll have a theme like art with families or bridges or pets or something like that.
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Title: The Lowland
Publication Info: Knopf (2013)
Lahiri’s novel, like many of her works, deals with Indian expatriates assimilating to life in the United States and coming to terms with their past in India. The Lowland tells the story of two brothers Subhash and Udayan. While Subash leaves for America to study in Rhode Island, Udayan is drawn to the Maoist Naxalite movement. The Lowland is also about a woman named Gauri who is connected to both brothers.
A big spoiler here, but after Udayan is killed by the police, Subhash marries the pregnant Gauri and takes her to Rhode Island to help her escape living with her oppressive in-laws. The marriage built on expediency cannot sustain and the desires of Subhash and Gauri to pursue their own goals and carry on in their lives with the memory of Udayan drive the conflict of the narrative. It is in many ways a quiet story with a lot of the passions tempered under placid exteriors and one that offers a sympathetic but not nonjudgmental look at each of the characters.
Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
Title: Interpreter of Maladies
Publication Info: Mariner Books (1999)
Previously read: The Namesake
Lahiri’s collection of short stories demonstrates that she is one fine writer. The stories – mainly set in the Cambridge/Boston area or in India – cover some common themes such as the meetings of peoples of different cultures, strained relationships, and children with a growing understanding of the adult world. The last theme is best demonstrated in “When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine” told through a child’s perspective of her parents’ Pakistani dinner guest and how that leads to her coming to terms with sociopolitical realities. The first story “A Temporary Matter” ends on an act of cruelty that is a real kick in the gut. Indeed, many of these stories demonstrate the downside of human nature and so the reader shouldn’t read this for a pick-me-up. Yet there is unexpected joy as well as in the last story “The Third and Final Continent” about an Indian immigrant and the elderly woman who rents him a room which has a surprisingly upbeat ending.
Recommended books: The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami, The Deportees: and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle, and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Around The World For a Good Book selection for: India
Author: Arundhati Roy
Title: The God of Small Things
Publication Info: Harper Perennial, 1998
This challenging novel tells the story of a multi-generational family in southernmost India whose lives are changed in one day by a tragic incident. While the main story is set in 1969, Roy moves back and forth throughout the time focusing mainly on the young twins Estha and Rahel and the adults they become as a result of the novel. Roy touches on post-colonialism, conflicts between Christianity and native beliefs, communism versus the status quo, and the caste system. While the story is heartbreaking and sometimes brutal, Roy has a way with words and composes some very beautiful sentences.
Recommended books: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Atonement by Ian McEwan