Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

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I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

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Stillness

In life there are few moments when you experience a kind of stillness which changes something in you, a perceptible shift occurs. Without being aware of it the conscious has changed. I hadn’t recorded my experience in any form then. It was days later I thought about that dusk inching closer to an inky night, in the wee hours of the morning in another kind of stillness, of dawn breaking and banishing darkness. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but feeling centered and belonging to the moment as it unfolded was a big part of it.

The winding village road was bereft of street lights. The stars looked so bright without light pollution that I wondered why we were crammed in the city. The path through green meadows where a lighthouse like light moved on both sides made it all the more surreal. I remember there was a waning moon and it looked ethereal. Was it my imagination or the quality of light was different than the one in the city?

I wonder what would travelling alone on a bike, moving with the wind and experiencing it with every fibre of my being feel like. I guess that is why people travel. To live out their unlived lives.

The moment was fleeting (aren’t moments like these always fleeting yet so much is contained in that moment) and even though I was surrounded by people it was as if no one existed. In the silence my mind was completely still. In these rare moments of stillness I feel something I can’t quite explain. Is it what feeling one with the universe and acutely being in the present moment feels like? I intend to find out.

Have you experienced such moments of stillness?

Thoughts on The Heat and Dust Project- How (not) to tell a book what you feel about it

 

 The Heat and Dust Project is a travel memoir and not just a travelogue as the title says. It is about the two people who are married to each other and how their relationship changes when they are travelling through India, to discover it and themselves in the process. It is about the feel of the place and the people they meet there, more than the place itself. They, along with the places they visit, are the main characters in their own book.

They have dared to show things as they are, and shown themselves in less than flattering light many a time. Their relationship is there for everyone to see and that can’t have been easy. Two writers in the house and both fiercely opinionated and stubborn. It must be have one hell of a writing and editing process. I, for one, would have loved to be a fly on the wall to see how it came to be the book it is.

Reading the book  shortly before an impending trip, it fell into my lap at just the right time. I bought the book a few months back and hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Then one fine day it struck me that it would make a great gift for a friend of mine who has the wanderlust and frequently travels with her better half. I read the authors’ interviews to know more about them and their project and I thought I will read  just the author’s note to get a feel of the book. Then to get a better idea I read the introduction and before I knew it I was reading the book.

The strange thing is, whenever I read nonfiction (which is not very often) I only want to read more nonfiction. Initially it was a slow read, I was savouring every moment and nonfiction is more powerful in the way one experiences it, probably because one feels that it is something which has actually happened, real and tangible. The writing is conversational but still literary. A good balance I thought.

Anxiety is a strange but not uncommon response to beauty. It is mostly exhibited by people with a talent for stress.

Devapriya or D as she calls herself says this when they were going gaga over the beauty in Jaisalmer and thought they might not be able to do justice to its breathtaking gorgeousity (yes that is a word). At times like these I wished the book had some photographs.

I finally found someone, to whom dusk matters and affects, in equal measure. Finally a person who has a relationship with the setting sun, a person who has revelations at dusk. And just like me, dusk is a harbinger of hope for her. How a moment captured during twilight becomes perfectly stored in one’s memory has always been a mystery to me. A marker which nature gives us every single day, to take stock of the day, to pause and reflect.

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