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Book review: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

This is a review of the book The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which follows the life of nineteenth-century botanist Alma Whittaker.

As one of the few women of my demographic who has not read (nor seen) Eat Pray Love, I came at this book with no preconceived ideas about it or its author. Instead, I approached it with the enthusiasm of someone who is given a book by a person who knows them, with the hope it would be a good read. And I was not disappointed.

Gilbert’s tale is told with sufficient detail and background that I wasn’t sure for a long time whether its protagonist, Alma Whittaker, was a real historical figure or not. The information about her father is just wild enough to be true, especially considering his background, and the details of her early life and the characters of her mother and father are so well developed that it was really a toss-up for a long time as to whether this was a biography or a novel. (Of course, a simple Google search would have been enough to stem that debate, but to be honest it was one I rather enjoyed having with myself. It made the story that much more interesting.)

Alma Whittaker is herself an interesting character. Given the background Gilbert provides her with, it is unlikely she would have been anything else, but even that conclusion is testament to the quality of the narrative. We are told the story through Alma’s eyes, with her prejudices, beliefs and opinions sprinkled liberally throughout, but they make the story more compelling, not less. The arrival of her sister Prudence is stated with the bluntness of an eleven year old who had hitherto been the only child; her discovery later of the outcome of some of Prudence’s decisions means that not only she, but the reader, must delve back to reconsider the sisters’ behaviour in light of this new information. As we see through Alma’s eyes, we are forced to realise the limitations that perspective contains.

Other characters, too, are fascinating for both what they offer and what they cannot. The Dutch housekeeper Hanneke de Groot is a font of information – but only if you know how to ask for it. Alma’s father, Henry, is notable for his wide knowledge and fine acquisitions, but also for his lack of empathy and tenderness. Ambrose Pike, the artist who comes to stay at the Whittaker house, White Acre, is someone who can offer Alma what she wants, but not what she needs. And Prudence, who is to Alma little more than a footnote, is capable of much greater strength and self sacrifice than not only Alma believes, but also than of Alma herself.

Running parallel to the study in characters and their strengths and weaknesses (though not necessarily delving into character studies, so to speak) is the scientific narrative of biology in the 1800s. Alma chooses to study mosses, partly because she needs something to occupy her scientific mind while acting as the matron of her father’s house, and partly because they are convenient in that she does not need to leave the property to do so. Her deductions, however, are more far-reaching than even she could have conceived. She may need to travel to reach their conclusion, but the years at White Acre with her mosses stand her in excellent stead for the research to come.

The way Gilbert links Alma’s study with the wider scientific world of the 1800s is cleverly done, and so seamless it is, again, hard to differentiate this work from biography. Sure, Alma Whittaker is a fictional character, but that doesn’t make her presence in this world any less fascinating. In fact, I was almost wishing by the end that she had existed, as it would have added an extra dimension to the scientific activity of the era.

The Signature of All Things is, all told, a very cleverly written story about a character and situation so complex it almost seems incredible they have been invented. The narrative is smooth and the story compelling. All told, I can heartily recommend this book as a worthwhile and fascinating addition to any library.

 

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The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Bloomsbury
513 pages
Available as hardcover, paperback and e-book

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The Friday blog-hop (part 3)!

Latte_Blog

Latte_Blog (Photo credit: digitalrob70)

Hello again! It’s time to once more trawl through the many worthy and excellent blogs out there to recommend five that you might find interesting to follow. These are blogs that I enjoy reading, and if you follow my blog then chances are you could do so too. Remember, they are in no particular order and the list is by no means exhaustive. :)

  1. South Australian Writers’ Centre. This is my local writers’ centre and their blog is very new, so it’s only fair of me to give them a shout out. The posts so far have been useful and I expect that the ones to come will be too.
  2. Booktopia. Yep, a book shop rather than a writer. They do an awesome blog though and you learn heaps about what other writers go though from reading it. Or, at least, I do. :)
  3. Making Baby Grand, the novel, by Dina Santorelli. I have been known to cringe at blogs that only talk about one piece of work (what happens when you write another book?) but this is particularly engaging, especially as it follows her journey from (self)publication to trying to attract and keep a readership, get herself known and establish herself as an author. It’s a good read.
  4. Cresting the Words, by Wordsurfer. A lovely blog to read, with a nice blend of the personal and the professional (so to speak). I always enjoy reading this one, though I don’t comment nearly as much as I should. But then again, that’s my fault, not hers. :)
  5. Rachelle Gardner. She’s an American literary agent who does regular posts on the agent’s life – as opposed to the writer’s life. It’s engaging, it’s entertaining and it’s incredibly useful to newbies like me.

So, that’s it for this round. I hope you find some of these blogs interesting enough to follow on a regular basis – and if you haven’t seen your name on one of these lists yet, it’s not because I don’t want to list you, but probably because there are so many blogs I want to recommend that I just haven’t got to you yet. All the best, and happy blogging!

 

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Book review: The Harbour, by Francesca Brill

The Harbour, by Francesca Brill

This is a review of the novel The Harbour, by Francesca Brill. Set in Hong Kong during the Second World War, it follows the story of Stevie Steiber, an American journalist, and her illicit affair with British Major Harry Field.

The tale is an intriguing one. With a backdrop of impending war in a colonial outpost foolishly clinging to the belief it is untouchable, we see the frustration of a woman wanting to write something substantial and worthwhile, but forced by circumstance to deliberate on the frivolous antics of the British ruling class. You know, what sort of frocks are being worn to the races, that sort of thing. She is trying to convince some of the area’s most powerful Chinese women to allow her to tell their story, but always there is something in the background that seems to be going against her.

Add to this her quite frankly odd relationship with her editor (they got married to give her Chinese papers, yet he is already married and his wife is quite fine with the affair) and her fateful encounter with Harry Field and you have a fascinating and potentially explosive mix. That said, however, I didn’t really feel it lived up to its potential. Perhaps it was the head-hopping – I have difficulty with more than one or two POVs being shown per scene, and sometimes in this there were five. I understand that Francesca Brill has a background in writing screenplays, which is where this tendency probably comes from, but that doesn’t make it any less dizzying for the reader.I felt that perhaps more effort should have been put into external narration in these cases, as it is perfectly possible to demonstrate what a character is feeling or thinking by describing their actions, and it leads to less of a mosaic of points of view.

The other thing that may have stopped this story from fulfilling its potential is the scant attention paid to the feelings of the main protagonists. This is supposed to be a love affair that transcended everything, breaking up marriages, leading to social ostracism a la Anna Karenina, yet I didn’t really feel it. There was a lot of attention paid to what these people did, but comparatively little on how they felt and how that impacted on their decisions. In other words, the longing that they were supposed to be experiencing just didn’t jump off the page for me. For a book whose cover boasts the quote, “We need more love stories like this,” it was distinctly underwhelming.

Despite these shortcomings, it was a well written book and the story it told was indeed fascinating. As a debut novel it shows a lot of promise, and the characterisation of Stevie in particular was outstanding. I particularly liked her responses to questions about her personal life once the war had finished and how people tried to cope with her decisions  I also liked the depiction of Harry in the POW camp and how he came to do some of the things he did. The truth is that people’s actions, particularly in wartime, are very rarely black and white, and the shades of grey shown in this novel demonstrate that brilliantly.

All in all, I enjoyed  The Harbour. While some aspects of it did disappoint me, it does give an outstanding depiction of life in Hong Kong in the 1940s and the challenges and troubles faced by its inhabitants, and as I said the characterisation was indeed excellent. For a good historical novel about the war in Hong Kong, it’s well worth picking up.

 

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The Harbour, by Francesca Brill
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
342 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as  paperback and e-book

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Author interview and novel excerpt: A War Below, by Peyton Farquhar

Something a bit different today, in that I’m doing a hybrid guest author post – part interview, part novel excerpt. The reason for this is that the author, Peyton Farquhar, is not just plugging her newly-released books, but is also spruiking for charity as well. Peyton has decided that proceeds from her series will go to charity – indeed, a different charity for each of the three books released so far. I thought this was a fascinating approach for an author to be taking, so I asked her about her motivation for this, and of course about the books themselves.  The series follows Moses Jones, a slave whose attempted escape to freedom triggers events that force him into an underground world of espionage, revenge and murder. It is inspired by true stories from the Underground Railroad and its secret involvement behind the scenes of the American Civil War.

Tell me about the series. What inspired you to write it?

The series is about a slave, Moses Jones, who attempts to escape his evil owner, Simon Dred, just a month before the American Civil War begins. His escape triggers a series of events that force him into a dark world of revenge, espionage and murder. And while he fights to survive on the run, he’s forced to deal with his lack of faith and a secret love he’s always had for one of his fellow escaping slaves. The four books in the series track the four major stages of his reluctant transformation from slave to underground freedom fighter.

I initially wrote the story as an eight-episode mini-series screenplay over seven years ago and always wanted to see it evolve into something. So I went to work converting it into a fiction series about a year and a half ago. The story is inspired by actual events and sewn together with theory and fiction.

I wanted to show a different side to the Underground Railroad – not just scared slaves hiding from slave hunters. There were slaves that not only stood up and fought for their freedom, but some were also involved in secret operations during the Civil War. There was a secret organization of ex-slaves and free-born blacks that ran a clandestine war against the Confederates. I wanted to shine a light on those heroes.

The first three books in the series are now available in the Kindle Store, the iBookstore and the Nook Store. Visit my website for links:http://www.awarbelow.com/


What made you decide to donate the proceeds of your books to charity?

I was inspired by the real-life heroes that were the basis for the characters in the series. They risked their lives (and some died) to help others. That’s something many of us couldn’t begin to imagine doing. I thought it would be pretty cool to allow their acts to continue helping people nearly 150 years later.

How did you choose which charities to involve?

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has always been a charity I’ve supported. I was blessed with a healthy childhood, but some are not so lucky. The last place a child should be is lying in a hospital facing death, and St. Jude’s is doing amazing things to fight childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Their daily operating costs are $1.8 million, and that number is primarily covered by public contributions. So every dollar donated is important. (http://www.stjude.org)

Wounded Warrior Project is an amazing organization that helps injured military service members. These individuals fought and sacrificed for my freedom and the least I could do is help an organization that helps them transition back into their “new normal” life. WWP provides wounded veterans with everything from employment opportunities to combat stress recovery. (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org)

Help-Portrait is a very unique movement, and that’s what I love about it. While St. Jude’s and WWP help those in need by way of “straight-forward” or “conventional” methods, Help-Portrait takes a different approach. They are a global collection of photographers that donate their time and talent to provide portraits to those in need. Every time I describe this charity to a friend, the reaction is always the same. The idea of giving a person in need a photo of themselves seems too simple and useless. But I urge you to visit their website and listen to some of the stories of those that benefitted from this movement. I’ve always appreciated people that take a different approach to things. Help-Portrait does just that, and I’m happy to support them.  (http://help-portrait.com)

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A War Below series by Peyton Farquhar

 

Excerpt from the first book in the series (A War Below: Run)

Suddenly, a dark silhouette moved out of the shadows of the bunkhouse across the yard from Moses. He was startled by the shadowy figure quietly creeping toward him.

“Have you made your decision?”
It was Solomon Vesey.
“How did you find me?” Moses asked.
“The others told me you might be here,” Solomon replied. “So?”
“So, what?”
Solomon walked closer and sat down on the step next to Moses.
“I asked you a question. Have you made your decision?”
“I thought I told you earlier today. Did I not make myself clear?”
“Yeah, but I thought I’d give you some time to think about it. I have the count from the others. There are five going. That means we’ve got one more spot. What do you say?”
“I say piss off,” Moses replied.
Solomon stood up and took a few steps away from Moses. He paused and turned around.
“I’m not going to fill the spot,” Solomon told him. “If you change your mind, there will still be room.”
“I’m not going to change my mind. Leave me alone.”
Solomon stared at Moses through the darkness for a moment. He turned to walk away but stopped. He spun back around, walked over to Moses and sat down next to him once again.
“There was this one slave about four or five years ago. My partner and I were running the same scam on his plantation owner. Back then we were moving smaller numbers. We didn’t have the number of folks we do now, so it was harder to move big groups. We would only move about one or two slaves at a time. So it was important to pick the right ones. It always took some time for me to weed out the ones that deserved to go. I would only pick the leaders, the smart ones, the strong ones – the ones that would be more likely to make something of themselves once we got them North. We thought that maybe they would join the cause and help others get to freedom. As I was saying, there was this one slave…what was his name? Doesn’t matter. Anyway, he was smart…smarter than you, Moses. No matter how much I tried to talk him into it, he wouldn’t run either. I guaranteed his safety, but he still wouldn’t do it. When I asked him why, he told me he was afraid. When I asked him what he was afraid of, he just shook his head and walked off. And then I figured it out. He wasn’t afraid of being hurt or killed. He was afraid of being nothing. All of his life, he had been the smart one. He had been the one that every slave looked up to. He was the king of slaves on that plantation, and he thought that if he left that plantation and went out into the real world, he would be nothing. He knew that nobody would ever respect him the way that those other slaves respected him. That’s why he didn’t escape. He was afraid of being nothing.”
Solomon stood up.
“But there was something he didn’t realize, Moses,” Solomon added. “When you’re a slave, you’re already nothing. You’re just plain property. You see, getting free is like getting born. In one push, you become your own person. Regardless of how much respect you get from others, you’re finally your own person. And when you have that, there are only two things that lie in front of you…life and possibility. And those are two beautiful things.”
Moses looked back up at the stars.
“We are meeting inside the barn at the north end of the plantation at midnight tomorrow night,” Solomon said. “I’ll leave the spot open for you. Come if you want.”
Solomon turned and walked away. The night swallowed him up.

———————–

Peyton Farquhar is from Nashville, Tennessee, USA.  The first installment of A War BelowRun (currently available from iTunesAmazon andBarnes & Noble) was released in February 2012. Hunt and Run followed later in the year.  Peyton has written a guest post for this blog before, which can be found here. You can follow Peyton on twitter @peytonfarquhar, and you can find out more about the series at www.awarbelow.com.

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Guest post: Online Self Publishing, by Peter McLennan

Hello all! Today we have a guest post by YA author Peter McLennan, who has recently entered into the foray of online self publishing and has volunteered to share his experiences. This is something that a lot of writers will find very interesting and, I hope, most informative, as it gives hints about the best way to go about things, pitfalls to avoid and the like. Useful stuff, right? I thought so too. Peter’s Australian, so this is from an Australian’s perspective; however, it’s relevant to everyone I think. This is the first of three parts, the second of which will be posted three weeks from today, and the final three weeks from then. They’re separated because Peter wrote too much for one post and I didn’t want to cut it down, and the three week gap is so (a) you don’t get overwhelmed by having them all together, and (b) to keep you coming back to see what’s up next. :) So, without further ado, here’s Peter.

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English: Photographic composition of Granmata ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

On-line Self-Publishing: Some Gory Details

I recently self-published my first novel, Who Will Save the Planet?, via CreateSpace (Amazon print-on-demand), Kindle Direct (Kindle eBook) and Smashwords (other eBooks). Since there are a lot of overviews of the process already out there, this series of articles will concentrate on some specific tricks and traps I encountered (some of which are relevant to those outside America and, in some cases, specifically Australia). It’s divided into three parts:

  • I: Laying the Foundations
  • II: Formatting and Uploading
  • III: After Uploading

Part I: Laying the Foundations

For non-Americans, publishing through modern high-tech channels requires some ironically Draconian steps, such as snail-mailing forms to America and handling cheques. These things can take months to organise, whereas uploading and distribution can take only minutes. Therefore, you might want to get some of these preliminary steps started before getting your hands dirty with your manuscript.

Selecting Distributors

Unlike traditional publishers, many on-line self-publishing sites don’t insist on exclusive rights for the distribution of your work. As a result, you can publish simultaneously with more than one of them, and this obviously maximises your sales. There are exceptions, such as Kindle’s Select program, so check the fine print.

Factors to consider when selecting distributors include reach, royalty rates, payment arrangements, attitude towards DRM and ease of conversion.

Study and Mindset

You’ll need to study the documentation provided by the site(s) you’ve chosen and be prepared to learn some new skills. It isn’t really hard, but does require some diligence and perseverance.

Tax Evasion—Legally

The longest lead-time task, and therefore that which should be started first, is sorting out the payment arrangements. It sounds like counting your proverbial chickens, but if you start making money before getting a few things in place, the US tax department (IRS) will happily take 30% of your earnings and you may not be able to get it back.

Australia, like many other nations, has a tax treaty with USA. This can be invoked to reduce the IRS’ cut to 5% (although why it remains above zero, when the local taxation department is going to tax you on it as well, remains a mystery). To avail yourself of this, you have to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Some of the advice you’ll read on this says that you have to send a Form W-7 and your passport(!) to America and wait a couple of months. However, it can actually be done over the phone—or, better yet, Skype or Yahoo! Messenger Voice so you don’t have to pay a fortune. For details, see here and here, as well as the advice on the publishing web sites. Before calling the IRS, I recommend filling in the form W-7 so that you won’t be caught by surprise by any of the questions asked.

Once you’ve got your magic number, you have to fill in another form (W-8BEN) and snail-mail it to your distributor(s). Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to short-circuit this. If you wish to proceed with your publishing without waiting, CreateSpace and Smashwords will let you defer their payments to you so your royalties will just accrue while the paperwork catches up.

Cheques and Balances

Amazon (CreateSpace and Kindle) will only pay international authors by cheque. Since banks (at least those in Australia) typically  charge AU$25 or more to process an overseas cheque, you could find yourself paying about 25% of your royalties to your bank. CreateSpace lets you defer payments until you’ve accrued enough earnings to justify the fees, but this isn’t possible for Kindle.

Some other sites, such as Smashwords and Lulu, provide the option to pay via PayPal—but unfortunately they don’t have Amazon’s coverage.

A possible way to get the best of both worlds, at least for your eBook version, is to publish via Smashwords only in the first instance. Once your sales reach US$1000, Smashwords can then sell your eBook via Amazon, but could still pay you via PayPal. Unfortunately, most of us will never achieve that level of success, but hopefully Amazon will relax the $1000 threshold in the near future.

If you can open an account with a US bank, or possibly even a local bank that has a retail branch in USA (if there are any), you may be able to avoid the cheque fee problem by receiving royalties via direct deposit.

If you decide to go with payments via cheque, consider opening an account with a bank that will process your cheques relatively cheaply. I’ve found charges ranging from AU$15 to AU$60. Shop around!

ISBN

Some distribution channels require your work to have an ISBN, and it can take a few weeks to get one organised.

Some self-publishing sites can provide you with an ISBN for free. I eschewed this option because I didn’t want the distributor to be registered as the book’s publisher and because it would have complicated my publishing of the book through other channels: an ISBN obtained from one site can’t be used elsewhere.

The DIY route requires you to buy an ISBN (tip: they’re a lot cheaper if bought in bulk), assign it to your work in the official ISBN database, then tell your distributor(s) about it.

Marketing

You might also want to get a head start on some marketing activities so that, when your masterpiece goes live, interested parties will be able to find out more about it—and you. Each site provides some recommendations and facilities to help with this.

Shameless Advertisement

And speaking of marketing…

Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

If you’ve found this information useful, then you probably wouldn’t like the novel that yielded it. But you might have kids, nephews, etc, who would! It’s about a fourteen-year-old named Jason who can’t work out how to get climate change fixed—until he saves the life of the mysterious and powerful Graham. Graham promises a reward, and Jason asks him to do something to stop climate change. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the man’s trapped and has to keep his word.

But Graham’s got other ideas.

Jason’s got a fight on his hands.

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Peter McLennan

Peter McLennan served for 28 years in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he focused on strategic planning. He has tertiary qualifications in engineering, information science and government, and a PhD in planning for uncertainty. He has had several non-fiction monographs and papers published.

Peter now writes fiction from his home in country Victoria, Australia. His hobbies include playing computer games badly and developing software badly. You can find Who Can Save the Planet? online in print versionKindle, and other eBooks.

Thanks, Peter! This has been most informative. I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalments.

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Book excerpt: From Dunes to Dior, by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

From Dunes to Dior, by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Today we have an excerpt from a memoir by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, about her time as a South Asian American woman living in Qatar. Mohanalakshmi is a writer, scholar and mother who has written a number of successful books about her life and experiences and, as you’ll see from this excerpt, does that exceptionally well. If your appetite is not whetted simply by that, you can check out the trailer for the book here. Take it away, Mohanalakshmi!

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I AM MUHANNA

“That’s really long.”

This, the standard response to seeing the enormity of my name in print, was universal and startlingly unoriginal, whether from the checkout counter clerk or the substitute teacher. Really, I always wanted to reply, I find yours short and insipid.

My maiden name, Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar, always ensured I stood out while growing up in predominately white suburban neighborhoods across the United States, announcing I was different even before I materialized in the body, with brown skin, black hair and dark eyes confirming me as child of immigrant Indian parents rather than hippies turned yuppies. Many of the years during middle school and high school were spent in a small city in North Florida where I was rare, strange, special, and unique. This was the 1980s, a decade before Americans were aware it was chic to be interested in cultures besides their own.

I mistakenly thought of going to college in North Carolina, as a cultural relocation to the north. A few weeks into the semester, I was like a fly in a glass of milk and most people had about as much interest in my Indianess as they did in the northern practice of calling Coke“pop.” Yet even here, there remains a gap between my name and who I really am — sort of like the vast gap between the substance of grey matter in our craniums and the miraculous marvels of
modern history lurking within that dark tissue.

From rare, exotic, different, I have become an anomaly: the monkey that, given enough time, and left alone with a typewriter, produced the works of the great Shakespeare — in other words a dubious, purported genius among my species.

Here in the middle, between Europe and Asia, my name advertises that I come from India, a country that supplies roughly 50% of the migrant workers in the Arabian Gulf.

The number one export in the Indian state of Kerala, the one that neighbors mine, is the young Keralite male, aged 25-45, capable of fulfilling any number of the low skilled jobs the affluent societies of the Gulf have not performed for themselves in decades. The sub-continentals — Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans — are the drivers, maids, cooks, nannies and construction workers.

Yet, every day I go to work in this intensely class and racially conscious society to an office, sit behind a desk, wear a suit, and type at a computer. The Indian woman striding in high heels, the non-white foreigner who isn’t cowed with her head down, body enveloped in a fading house dress, waiting for madam to decide on a purchase so she can take the shopping bags.

Perhaps the most comical reactions to my name began when I moved from the expatriate heavy Education City to the national university, Qatar University. It was during my three years there that I discovered Mohana sounded very much like Muhanna, a very common and popular man’s name in the GCC.

“You are Doctor Muhanna?” was the common refrain when I showed up for meetings, in the aforementioned suit and heels, usually the only woman in a room full of men in traditional thobe. “I am,” I learned to say with a rueful smile.

The most dramatic reactions were when I was pregnant and working, up until the eighth month of my pregnancy. During this time I wore the traditional abaya of women of the GCC as a way to minimize my morning routine and also draw attention away from my dual purpose as an incubator of life and professional woman. The female body in Qatar is like the attitude many people have toward young children, only here the sentiment seems to be breasts, hips, and legs are better if unseen or heard. As senior manager of a growing start up, I must tell you that modest maternity wear was always the furthest thing from my mind. So I developed a collection of abayas, five in total by the day of delivery, which I wore for nearly six months. The reactions to the sight of a pregnant woman, wearing an abaya, clearly not Qatari, and showing up for a meeting scheduled for Dr. Muhanna, were probably some of the funniest moments of my life.

“I didn’t want to tell you this,” Rima, my very first Arabic tutor, said sighing, “but your name does not have a good meaning.”

“MoHUnA,” she said pulling at the edges of her headscarf and lining up the sides of laminated note cards, “means dejected or one who is disappointed.” She waited a moment before looking up at me, the curved rims of her eyeglass lenses framing soft brown eyes.

“My name is Mohanalakshmi,” I responded, “and it means beautiful goddess of wealth.”

But the Bagavagita is not part of “the Book,” nor Hindus people of “the Book,” like Muslim, Christians, or even that vilified enemy, the Jews. And this is perhaps why it was news to my tutor that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in Hindu tradition, could never have been anything other than parental blessing upon a child.

Those people of that polytheistic religion, monotheistic Muslims might say, if they stop a moment to think about their servants, who comprise an invisible class of workers. These men and women are trapped somewhere between adulthood and adolescence because they are forever regarded as “girls” and “boys.” Unlike me, with my western education, they are drivers, messengers, tea bringers, and carriers of shopping bags, never to be more, often treated as less.

All my life I have been a counter culture character, running counter to the main story, without ever intentionally trying. And here, only three hours by plane from my birthplace, I find that I’m more unique than ever.

“She keeps good company,” my college professor said the night before my wedding to assembled friends and family. “Of one name women the world over: Elizabeth, Madonna, Mohana.”

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Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was good in many ways since that is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to her full time gig. She has published three e-books this year including Mommy But Still Me, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, and Coloured and Other Stories.  Since she joined the e-book revolution, she dreams in plotlines.

Her work has also been published in AudioFile Magazine, Explore Qatar, Woman Today, The Woman, Writers and Artists Yearbook, QatarClick, and Qatar Explorer. She has been a guest on Expat Radio, and was the host for two seasons of the Cover to Cover book show on Qatar Foundation Radio. She was the Associate Editor of Vox, a fashion and lifestyle magazine.

From Dunes to Dior is available as a ebook from Amazon.com, and more information can be found at www.mohanalakshmi.com or by following Mohanalakshmi on Twitter at @moha_doha. If you are interested in reviewing the book, please contact the author at Mohanalakshmi[at]hotmail[dot]com.

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